Many an eyebrow was raised some 18 months ago when goal-getter Kevin Kuranyi swapped the home comforts of Gelsenkirchen-based Schalke for the exotic shores of Dynamo Moscow in the Russian top flight. Cynics thought the adventure would go wrong, but instead, it has proved a highly productive transfer.
The striker with Brazilian, German and Panamanian roots has just extended his stay in the Russian capital until 2015, and his goals have earned him hero status among the Dynamo loyalists. Some have even started a petition to support the player’s return to the Germany squad, from which he was ejected by coach Joachim Low for disciplinary reasons some years ago.
However, Kuranyi is currently wasting no time contemplating a resumption of his international career, because he is pursuing ambitious targets at club level. “We want to finish in the top five and earn a place in Europe next year," he exclusively told FIFA.com.
Boost to mental strength
The target is far from unrealistic. Kuranyi has ten goals to his name this season, a significant contribution to Dynamo’s ascent to third place in the Russian Premier League, just a point off CSKA Moscow and four adrift of leaders Zenit St Petersburg. “The decision to move to Russia was absolutely the right one for my future. I'm mentally a lot stronger than I was a couple of years ago," the player said.
The 29-year-old rates as one of the league's biggest names, but fame from goalscoring has a price, as opposing defences now keep a much closer eye on him. However, the special attention has helped him develop and improve his all-round game, as he adds new attributes to his raw finishing skill. “It's even more difficult for me here than in the Bundesliga, because I’m generally double marked. But that means there's more space for my team-mates, so I turn provider far more often."
In his 45 league appearances in Russia so far, Kuranyi has either scored or set up 29 goals, a prolific figure which explains his popularity among the fans and the willingness of the club to retain his services for longer. The former Schalke player has teamed up with fellow ex-Bundesliga men Andriy Voronin and Zvejzdan Misimovic, and with home-grown schemer Igor Semshov, to form a potent quartet. “When I arrived in Moscow the club was in turmoil and we weren't successful. But we've steadily improved over recent months, and we're following a successful course now," said the man capped 52 times by his country
Rapid personal development
Kuranyi feels he has come on not merely as a player but also as a person. In Germany, he recalls, he would sometimes worry more about his appearance than his football, even if the goals had dried up at the time. “And I think there are still people out there who have the wrong image of me. They've never got to know me, and can't possibly properly understand my personality," the player reflected.
I'm mentally a lot stronger than I was a couple of years ago.
A stain which may remain for ever was Kuranyi’s grave error in storming out of a Germany fixture and going home on learning he had not been named in the matchday squad. He was branded selfish after the incident, but he now takes a different view of the matter. “I know it was the wrong thing to do, but I've learned from it and grown a lot as a person and a character. Moving to Russia has helped me mature.”
Aiming for the top
The striker need not worry about negative headlines for the time being - quite the opposite in fact: a group of Dynamo loyalists has raised a petition trying to persuade Germany boss Low to recall the expelled player. “Obviously, I was thrilled when I heard about what the fans were doing, because it showed how well I've been playing for Dynamo, and the reputation I’ve earned among the fans. But personally, I regard the matter as closed. I'm not wasting any time thinking about the national team for now."
Instead, he is totally focused on his new first love, as his goal is to help Dynamo return to Europe's biggest footballing stage. “We're in good form and working hard for our success, but we're not consistent enough to mix it right at the top, and that's the main area for improvement. Our target is to finish in the top five and play European football in the coming year. If we manage it, it would represent a massive success - and if we do even better, then so be it."
‘Even better’ would be a place in the UEFA Champions League, in which case Kuranyi would have completed his personal rehabilitation, and would be in a position to test his skills against the best players in the world, which would certainly up the pressure on Low to take another look at one of the country’s forgotten sons.