Monday’s transfer window deadline capped a good weekend for Stoke City. 2 days after registering their second Premier League win of the season at West Ham, Mark Hughes concluded his first transfer window as boss of the Potters with two signings to add to a squad that starts to take decent shape as it sets about on the transition from the Tony Pulis era.
To add to a list of astute business that has seen full-backs Marc Muniesa and Erik Pieters from Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven respectively, and Oussama Assaidi on a loan deal from Liverpool in order to add width that was obviously lacking in the latter days of the Pulis regime, Hughes bought in Stephen Ireland from Aston Villa and Marko Arnautovic from Werder Bremen. Ireland, still only 26 despite a few years in the cold at Villa, links back up with Hughes after working successfully with the coach at Manchester City, while Arnautovic’s £2 million arrival from Bremen offers a great deal of intrigue.
Born in Vienna to a Boston father and an Austrian mother, Arnautovic played for a number of clubs in the Vienna area as a youngster before moving to Holland in 2006 to join the youth set-up at FC Twente. His ability to score goals was obvious from the very start as he netted 22 goals in 24 games for the Twente under-19 side in the 2007-2008 season to help them win the youth championship, as well as hitting 27 goals in 32 games between 2006 and 2008 for the club’s reserves. That form earned him a first-team debut in the April 2007 and he was given 14 appearances for Twente in the following year, despite not finding a goal. At the end of the season, in July 2008, he was given a four year contract extension to fend off interest from Feyenoord.
In the following year, the Austrian striker established himself in Twente’s first-team under Steve McClaren, making 41 appearances as the club finished 2nd in the EreDivisie. Such was the quality of his form that he attracted the interest of Inter Milan, who took him on a season-long loan in August 2009. His time at the San Siro was blighted by injury however and he only made 3 appearances for the Nerrazzuri, not enough to convince Jose Mourinho he was worth a permanent deal. Arnautovic, who had faced previous questions over his behaviour, struck up a bond with fellow tear-away Mario Balotelli and Mourinho seemed unimpressed with the Austrian’s attitude. “Balotelli is his best friend”, he said “coincidentally they have the same problems. Marko is a great guy, but he has the attitude of a child”.
After going back to Twente, he quickly switched to Germany and Bremen on a four year deal but again his progress was stifled by form and a long sequence of behavioural problems. His first year in the Bundesliga was marred by an array of disciplinary problems and fall-outs with manager Thomas Schaaf, including an instance where he was booed by his own fans for reacting badly to being substituted in a match with Nuremberg. He did play regularly for Bremen during his time in Germany, making 72 appearances for the River Islanders, but the striker managed only a modest 14 goals.
In the last months of his spell in Bremen, the striker’s behaviour hit the headlines again; he was involved in a brawl with team-mate Sokratis Papastathopoulos in March before he was fined alongside team-mate Eljero Elia for speeding in April. Despite being bought back into the first-team fold under new coach Robin Dutt following the departure of Schaaf, Arnautovic looked for a fresh start and that convinced Bremen to let him move to Stoke.
Arnautovic has spent the last season at Bremen on the right side of midfield and the versatile attacker is also able to play up-front as a target man due to his 6ft 4 inch frame. Despite his notable height and physical presence, the main part of his game is his fine technical ability which allows him to beat his man on the flank or the link the play on the ground. Losing 59% of his aerial battles last year, it suggests that the Austrian’s style is more suited to receiving the ball along the floor, moving away from the physical-attributes that Pulis prioritised from his forwards. Hughes will look to change the direct philosophy that was in place under Pulis and with Arnautovic’s ability on the ball, it should help him do that.
Playing in a side that will rely on width and the creativity of Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington in wide areas, Arnautovic’s height will be targeted however and he will therefore have to improve on his ability in the air. Also, boasting a record that reads just 16 goals in 83 games in 3 years in the Bundesliga and a rate of 28 shots hit off target in 26 appearances last season, he will have to sharpen up in-front of goal if he is to play centrally.
Although he is likely to be fielded more often on the right, offering width and balance to Assaidi on the left by his eagerness to hug the touchline and get crosses in to provide Kenwynne Jones, he created 65% of his 29 chances for Bremen last season from a position on the right of the pitch.
The Austrian’s discipline will also have to be improved on the pitch as he made 34 tackles last season at an average of just over one tackle per game and committing 42 fouls from which he recorded 9 yellow cards and 1 red. Hughes will also be aware those cards did not just come from poorly-timed challenges, but also from dissent, a product of his character that has dogged his progression off the pitch, so the Welsh coach will have to work hard to eradicate that petulance from his new striker.
Blessed with fine technical qualities that compliment his strong physique perfectly, Arnautovic can be a great asset for Hughes and Stoke if he can focus the Austrian’s potential on the pitch. Daniel Rathjen of Eurosport Germany said of the 24 year old “His football skills are still extraordinary, but at Bremen he got a lot of chances before they finally lost patience and let him go”, Stoke are the latest to give him an opportunity, at £2 million it will represent a great piece of business if he can be encouraged to seize it.
Scouting Marko Arnautovic (video),