Mario Mandzukic will almost certainly never be glamorous. Glamour always involves a certain amount of effortlessness. No matter how hard the Croat may try, you get the impression that he’d always seem like he’s trying hard. However, glamour is not a necessary trait in order to be good, and even the most glamorous of clubs is starting to realise the benefits of industry over effortlessness.
Chelsea have become an unlikely club to lead the emphasis of the collective over the individual. And their leader in this pursuit, Jose Mourinho, is an unlikely man to be down-playing the importance of the individual. And with these pair of surprises, there may yet be another one to come. While Mandzukic may not be the typical Chelsea signing, he may just be the right one.
In spite of his seemingly selfless work rate, Mandzukic is not a man without ego. You can’t lead the line for the current Champions League champions without some level of self-importance. This much has been apparent in Mandzukic’s body language in finding himself a dispensable part of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. The Spaniard has continued his experiment in playing a striker-who-is-not-a-striker in Germany, with Thomas Muller being the man to make the move from a wide berth to a more central forward position.
And Mandzukic’s importance only looks set to further decline with the imminent arrival of Robert Lewandowski. With the Croat seemingly available this summer, Chelsea would be well advised to seriously consider his merits.
The biggest argument against Mandzukic is that he doesn’t score enough goals. This is always quite a damning argument for any striker. It is also likely to generate much caution at Stamford Bridge. Given the toils of Fernando Torres et al. over the last two seasons, the last thing Chelsea need is another centre-forward who does not score goals.
And yet when you look at Mandzukic’s stats, it’s hard to see where this argument comes from. Before moving to the Bundesliga, the Croat averaged at around a goal every two games for Dinamo Zagreb – the oft quoted gold standard for any striker. And since joining Bayern, he’s managed 31 in 46 league games. The German champions relative dominance must of course be taken into account, but even with this it’s hard to see how you could accuse Mandzukic of not scoring often enough.
But still he retains the hard-working centre-forward tag that he gained from his time at Wolfsburg. And here the strongest evidence for the ‘non goal-scoring striker’ argument is to be found here. During his two seasons with the Bundesliga club, he managed 20 goals in his 56 appearances – far from shameful, but not the kind of form that would inspire Chelsea to see him as the solution to their well-documented problems. However, take into consideration that Wolfsburg finished 15th and 8th in the two years that he lead their attack, and these figures appear to be much more promising.
Part of the reason that Mandzukic is open to such accusations is down to the incredible work he puts in off the ball. His tireless closing down of opponents is admirable and has lead to his name forever being associated with the term ‘hard-working’. Despite dramatically increasing the amount of goals he scores, he remains unfairly labeled as a not-striking striker. In this respect, his attitude has been his own worst enemy.
Even if we accept a slightly augmented argument that Mandzukic’s game is not primarily about scoring goals, then there’s still no reason to believe he couldn’t thrive at Chelsea. If anything, the fact that he is best known for his work rate may be the best reason for the London club to pursue the Croat.
The current incarnation of Chelsea that is being built by Jose Mourinho is one that is founded on industry. The manager has bored in his public insistence on work ethic, to the point where the only thing one is glad for is that they do not have to listen to it behind the scenes. Work ethic was the reason given for discarding of Mata, and it will likely be cited should Luiz leave the Bridge as expected this summer.
Boredom aside, Chelsea are already beginning to bear fruit from their new-found attitude. The most obvious example of this coming at the Etihad, in which their complete commitment was widely cited as being responsible for their victory. Signing Mandzukic could only reinforce this strength and make the team an even more formidable outfit to face.
Along with Mario Mandzukic, the two other strikers that Chelsea have also been consistently linked with signing are Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani. While both would undoubtedly increase the glamour at the Bridge, this may be the last thing the club needs. If Mourinho is consistent in his insistence on work ethic, there would be no better striker to sign than Mandzukic.