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06 October 2018

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Austria

Marko Arnautovic Skidding Off Road to Greatness


Since taking his first steps into the game at Hengelo, FC Twente’s youth HQ, Marko Arnautovic has been tipped for big things – even being labelled the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But it isn’t just his style of play that has earned this, at first glance, flattering comparison. Like Ibrahimovic, Balkan blood runs through Arnautovic’s veins (his father is Serbian), he had a troubled youth and blends physical strength with exquisite technique. The 22-year-old also made his international debut for Austria against the same side Ibrahimovic faced on his debut for Sweden, the Faroe Islands.

Comparisons with the former Barcelona striker had been building for some time, increasing year by year, season by season, as Arnautovic trekked towards stardom. Between 2006 and 2008, the forward set youth championships he appeared in on fire, with astonishing displays for Twente’s Under-18s (18 goals in the 2006/07 season) and Jong Twente (21 goals in 24 games the following year). A wonderful solo goal against Jong Ajax stood out amongst the many superb displays as a marker was put down that here was a player ready for the next level. And on 14th April, 2007, the Austrian did indeed make his senior debut, turning out at the Philips Stadion against PSV Eindhoven.

Two years later it was time for Arnautovic to get serious, breaking into the Eredivisie side’s first team on a regular basis and scoring 12 goals in the 2008/09 campaign. Then-Twente coach Steve McClaren deployed the starlet as a right winger in a 4-3-3 system, with club legend Blaise Nkufo as the central striker and the pacy Eljero Elia on the opposite flank.

 

In the summer of 2009, with the secret of his talent well and truly known throughout European football, Arnautovic made the move to Serie A, joining Inter. The switch though did not go to plan. In his last game with Twente, the Dutch Cup final against Heerenveen, Arnautovic suffered a stress fracture in his right foot. To Inter’s credit, they still pushed ahead with the deal, but only on an initial one-year loan that would become permanent if the Austrian clocked up a pre-determined number of appearances in a blue and black shirt. But Arnautovic failed to feature enough, despite the Nerazzurri enjoying a spectacular season, winning a Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League treble. With just three appearances to his name, the Austrian was an onlooker.

Arnautovic left Italy more famous for his off the pitch behaviour than anything done on it. His larger than life ego was also a source of frustration for the Nerazzurri. “Arnautovic is a fantastic player, but he thinks and acts like a kid”, said Jose Mourinho, his coach at Inter at the time. A friendly played at the Cornaredo Stadium against Swiss second division outfit Lugano was the striker’s only impressive performance in that 2009/10 season, explaining all there is to know about a thoroughly underwhelming spell.

But if the Austrian’s undoubted admirers expected him to bounce back from his Inter disappointment at once, they were wrong. His fall from grace has continued this season with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, who shelled out €7M for his services last summer. The 22-year-old has hit the headlines for off-pitch troubles once again, rather than performances on it. “You can take my money and give it to your family”, replied Arnautovic to Werder general manager Klaus Allofs, who had told the striker he would be fined for his behaviour towards coach Thomas Schaaf. Supporters of the German club quickly labelled him “Arrogantovic” for his lack of manners and “Arnautor-nix” (Tor nicht means no goal) for his lack of goals; the youngster has scored just four times in 25 Bundesliga appearances.

Though controversial, Arnautovic remains one of the greatest hopes of his generation. The talent is there, but the bright spots have been few and far between. At international level at least he is beginning to shine. In October last year, Austria coach Dietmar Costantini brought the striker back into the international fold after an 18-month absence, and he repaid this in goals, scoring a brace against Azerbaijan. Four days later he netted again against Belgium. And last February Arnautovic found the back of the net in a friendly with Holland.

“Arnautovic can do great things if he stays on the straight and narrow”, commented former Austria international Andreas Herzog. “He has the potential to become Austria’s best player in the last 30 years, leaving even Hans Krankl in the shadows.” However, a clash with team-mate Stefan Maierhofer – who in the past criticised Arnautovic’s moody attitude – for a missed penalty against Turkey is a reminder that this youngster has a long way to go yet before he can even think about fulfilling his undoubted potential.




AlecCWriters

Alec Cordolcini

Published: Thursday, 19th May 2011