Signing on Deadline Day in the summer for a reported £2million from Werder Bremen, Marko Arnautovic’s performances appear to have gone somewhat under the radar. But in acquiring the controversial Austrian, did Stoke City actually make one of the signings of the season?
With just one fixture left in the Premier League, Arnautovic has scored four and assisted seven in twenty nine league appearances. Often deployed out on the left, the Austrian is level in the assist charts with the likes of Phillippe Coutinho, Eden Hazard and Jesus Navas. Bizarrely at the age of 25, the forward has just been rewarded for his contribution in his debut campaign by being named as the club’s Young Player of the Season.
Stoke City’s break from the Tony Pulis era is perhaps best epitomised in the signing of Arnautovic. A technically proficient and talented individual without the stature of a rugby player, the now Crystal Palace manager would never have taken a chance on the eccentric Austrian and his almost legendary attitude.
So far though, Arnautovic hasn’t hit the headlines as often as the English media would have hoped for. Upon signing for Stoke, many headlines dubbed the forward as “Mario Balotelli Mark II” in the expectation that he would produce similarly barmy stories. Unsurprisingly, the pair were actually good friends from their time at Inter Milan.
Despite signing the player for just £2 million, Mark Hughes was still seen to be taking a gamble. From his time in Milan, Jose Mourinho labelled Arnautovic as “a fantastic person but with the attitude of a child.” At FC Twente, where the Austrian first showcased his talent, Steve McClaren claimed that he was the craziest player that he had ever worked with.
Up until this season, controversy seemed to follow the Austrian wherever he went. In Milan, Arnautovic was dining in a restaurant when the Bentley he had borrowed from Samuel Eto’o was stolen. The forward once injured his knee ligaments playing with his dog whilst he believes he failed to impress Mourinho at Inter due to the fact he was going out five times a week.
Signed by Bremen as the replacement to Marko Marin, bridges between the club and Arnautovic were finally burnt last season after a training ground bust-up with Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The forward had been dubbed “Arrogantovic” by sections of the German club’s supporters.
A month after signing for Stoke, Arnautovic was sent off for his country after an ugly clash with Sweden’s Johan Elmander. The forward has bemoaned the fact that he is viewed as the “bad boy” of Austrian football whilst Bayern Munich’s David Alaba is seen as the “golden” child.
However, in interviews upon his arrival, Arnautovic claimed that fatherhood had mellowed his eccentricities and that he was no longer the “bad boy” of Austrian football. After a slow start to life in the Premier League, Hughes’ gamble on the Austrian has definitely paid off. Fans’ posts on the club’s fanzine The Oatcake reveal that many believe if the forward worked on his finishing and displayed a greater level of consistency, the former Bremen star would be snapped up by a bigger team in no time.
Arnautovic took slightly too long to adapt to the demands of English football to genuinely be credited as the signing of the season. In November of last year, German newspaper Bild mocked the attacker for a remarkable winless streak that stretched to nineteen matches at both Bremen and Stoke. The wide man had only netted twice in Stoke’s colours by March. The likes of Wilfried Bony, Fernandinho, Dejan Lovren and Alvaro Negredo all arguably boast stronger and more consistent cases for that particular title.
Similar to Michu though last season, albeit to a lesser extent, Arnautovic has made his £2 million price tag seem a snip and surely the Austrian’s transfer is the bargain of the season. In a season where £30 million Erik Lamela and £27.5 million Marouane Fellaini have failed to impress, the former Bremen attacker has proven to be a reliable creator for his team-mates throughout the entire year.
Hughes was seen to be taking a gamble when he sanctioned the signing of “Mario Balotelli Mark II” back in September. However, the Stoke manager has more than been rewarded for the faith he has shown in the eccentric and controversial Austrian forward.