In recent years a number of Bundesliga clubs have demonstrated their knack of unearthing hidden gems in emerging European leagues, snapping up raw talent with the potential to makes waves before helping them establish themselves as highly-coveted superstars.
Swiss star in the making
Josip Drmic, soon to don Bayer 04 Leverkusen's colours, fits that description perfectly. Scoring 17 goals and providing three assists in his debut Bundesliga campaign was Drmic’s way of announcing his arrival before securing a move to the Werkself. “I’m delighted Leverkusen are giving me this chance,” said the Swiss forward. “I had a feeling from the very first moment that I’d fit in well with the club. I like their style of play and the fact the have a lot of youngsters playing for them.”
Born in the Swiss town of Bäch to Croatian parents, Drmic caught the eye of FC Zurich as a nine-year-old after featuring for local youth sides for much of his childhood. The pacey striker made his way through the youth ranks at Zurich and, having demonstrated his ability to find the back of the net for the club’s reserves, was handed his senior debut at the age of 17 towards the end of the 2009/10 season.
Drmic never looked back and soon cemented himself in the starting line-up over the course of the next two seasons. Appearances in both the UEFA Champions League, against FC Bayern München, and the UEFA Europa League offered a glimpse of what was to come once he departed Switzerland’s borders.
Taking the top flight by storm
Though several European clubs expressed interest in acquiring Drmic's goalscoring services, it was 1. FC Nürnberg who managed to convince the striker to sign the dotted line on a four-year contract. He swiftly realised he had made a good decision, commenting that “the stadiums, the fans, the games, the quality - it's all on a different level to Switzerland”.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse as Nürnberg went the whole first half of the season without a win, even if Drmic still managed to rack up over a third (six) of the Franconians’ goals before the winter break. The 21-year-old's brace in a 4-0 win over Hoffenheim on Matchday 18 paved the way for the Swiss international’s meteoric rise as he went on to finish behind just Robert Lewandowski and Mario Mandzukic in the 2013/14 scoring charts.
The striker admitted relegation was “incredibly annoying because it wasn’t how I wanted to leave the club”, but still received glowing references for his efforts. "Josip pays close attention when he is being told something," said club legend Marek Mintal. "He soaks up advice like a sponge.”
Dark horse on the grandest stage
Comfortable with the ball on either foot, Drmic proved himself as a true threat both in front of goal and on the wing and his displays once again had clubs scrambling for his signature. “With Drmic it was crucial we wrapped up the deal early because we’re convinced he’s going to have a great World Cup with Switzerland,” said Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler after completing the deal to sign the youngster on a five-year contract.
Denied a FIFA U-17 World Cup winners medal in 2009 due to not securing Swiss citizenship in time, Drmic represented his country at youth level as well as at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London before making his full international bow in a World Cup qualifier against Albania. With a brace against his parents' home country in March 2014, Drmic succeeded in his desire “to show everyone what I’m capable of”. Having been named in Switzerland's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad, Drmic is now looking to do the same in Brazil.