Andrej Kramaric has been Hoffenheim's stand-out performer in an exceptional campaign. - © © imago / Michael Weber
Andrej Kramaric has been Hoffenheim's stand-out performer in an exceptional campaign. - © © imago / Michael Weber

Andrej Kramaric the catalyst for Hoffenheim's historic season

Hoffenheim's incredible season has mirrored Andrej Kramaric's trajectory in the last 18 months: after loitering in football's backwaters in 2015/16, the pair are now high-functioning performers at the business end of the table

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Of course a team is only as good as the sum of its parts, and Kramaric — 15 league goals and eight assists — has been a spectacularly successful piece in Julian Nagelsmann's carefully constructed jigsaw that is set to better their club's best-ever finish of seventh in their maiden Bundesliga season of 2008/09.

Not that he was an entirely unknown quantity when he arrived in Sinsheim, initially on loan from Leicester City, in January 2016.

The English Premier League club had been convinced a man who had scored a club record 450 goals for Dinamo Zagreb at youth level, and 28 in 31 competitive appearances for Rijeka in his final months in his native Croatia, was worth dipping into the coffers to pull out a club record £9 million (€10.4 million) transfer fee for in January 2015.

WATCH: Kramaric sinks Bayern on Matchday 27

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The soon-to-be English champions even argued their new addition's "exceptional quality" meant usual regulations could be waived in order for Kramaric, who had played just four senior internationals at the time, to receive a work permit from UK authorities.

It was an emphatic vote of confidence from the club, but having reportedly turned down a move to Chelsea for fear of a lack of first-team opportunities, Kramaric now found himself on the fringes at the King Power Stadium.

He would remain there, making just two appearances in the Premier League title-winning season — you need to make five to qualify for a winner's medal — before Hoffenheim called and salvation in Sinsheim beckoned.

WATCH: Kramaric's stunning strike against Freiburg

To come into a new team and perform is tough; to come into a new team that is performing badly and perform well yourself is a football miracle, but Kramaric was touched by grace.

"I want to do my share to keep us up," Kramaric had said upon arrival at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. He did. His five goals and four assists in 15 appearances helped his club pull away from danger, and gave them — and him — the platform to do so much better this term.

Bolstered by the permanent four-year deal Hoffenheim handed him last May, Kramaric has consistently shown the sort of talent that reminded Frankfurt boss and former Croatia coach Niko Kovac of the legendary Davor Suker, who — like Kramaric — had worn Dinamo's mythical number nine shirt.

"He is very important to me. It was under him that I won my first cap and scored my first goal for the national team. I will never forget that," Kramaric told of Kovac. "He'll always be a special person for me who gives me a special energy."

It is the upgrade in Hoffenheim's firepower Kramaric has provided that has been a major catalyst in the team's success this term. After signing him, Hoffenheim sporting director Alexander Rosen said he hoped Kramaric would give the club "a new impulse in our attacking play."

He has not been disappointed.

- © gettyimages / Maja Hitij