Marko Arnautovic: The Centurion
It was just over three years ago when a certain Austrian winger joined Stoke City from Werder Bremen for two millions pounds; on Sunday, Marko Arnautovic is set to play his one hundredth Premier League game for Stoke City. In those three years the 27 year old has grown more and more into the team, as a footballer but, perhaps most surprisingly, as a man. From arriving with a reputation Mario Balotelli would blush for to becoming one of the most pivotal, influential and iconic players to have blessed Stoke City in recent years: Arnie’s had a hell of a ride. It’s only fair we mark this point in his career with the respect it deserves.
Having played for esteemed clubs such as Inter Milan and Bremen, Arnautovic arrived in England with a reputation: a powerhouse of a winger who had bags of talent and potential and was ready to prove himself in one of the best leagues in the world; however, he also had a dark side: his time spent with his previous clubs wasn’t always done so wisely which eventually led to Jose Mourinho branding Arnautovic as ‘unmanageable’. However, then new Stoke manager Mark Hughes had complete faith in Marko, saying “people will very quickly see what an outstanding talent he is”. He was bestowed with the number 10 shirt, fresh off the back of Ricardo Fuller and, with his ability, antics and achievements, it would go on to be a fitting tribute.
Arnie made his Stoke debut against Manchester City and scored his first Stoke goal against his debut’s opponents’ rivals. It was a sensational free kick which lasered past one of the most in form goalkeepers in the league in David de Gea. From then on, his reputation of being a confident player continued to bleed throughout his first season at Stoke: scoring a further three goals and a staggering ten assists. With Arnie’s help, the club finished a record ninth place in the Premier League with a record point tally; he also claimed the ‘young player of the season’ award, despite being 25 years old at the time of collecting his award.
Arnie’s second season in a Stoke shirt was a mixed one. His reputation as being an incredibly skilled footballer grew, perhaps represented by one of the most delightful crosses the Britannia Stadium had ever seen: in a 4-1 thrashing against Manchester City, his cross from a stupendous distance away from the penalty area diverged away from the City defence and perfectly onto the head of Peter Crouch. Marko followed this remarkable piece of skill with a celebration as if he’d have scored himself. It matches the comments Hughes made about him, saying “he was always of a mind that he got as much enjoyment out of assists than goals”. This craving for the spotlight was often misread: Arnautovic was labelled as ‘arrogant’ and ‘lazy’ throughout the season with fans saying that Arnautovic would bring much more to the table if he would apply himself. Perhaps this persona was endorsed by the singular league goal that Arnie tallied that season, a last minute equaliser against West Ham away that came very, very late in the season.
Marko’s third, and most recent completed, season for Stoke was by far and away his most successful. The eleven league goals he scored made him the club’s top goalscorer for the season, as well as the coveted ‘player of the year’ award. He also was one of the most influential players, providing the joint most chances created for the season along with new signing Xherdan Shaqiri. Alongside this his game improved in ways that statistics cannot describe: he became stronger, more confident, more scary, he applied himself in every single game he played and reaped the rewards that followed. He turned from pantomime villain to club hero in a matter of months, he was making a huge impression which was spreading past the club and English football. He fulfilled his potential.
Such an astounding 2015/16 season, along with appearing at the European Championships, provided an opportunity for Marko to make the next step in his career. He had just over a year left on his contract, a measly £12.5m release fee and, at 27 years old, a world class club had the opportunity had a chance to provide a platform that Arnie would have dreamed about as a child. He was linked with PSG and Everton the heaviest, along with many top flight teams across Europe and it looked as though Marko had outgrown Stoke and looked set to move on looking for pastures new. Then, incredibly, the news broke in July that Arnautovic had signed a brand new four year deal with Stoke City. To the delight of the fans, his teammates and the club: Marko Arnautovic decided to dedicate his primal years with the club that made him. His loyalty unwavering, his respect and reputation growing.
Marko arrived in Stoke as a boy, he will tell you that himself. A player who saw the bright lights and big cities just as important as his career and looked like another player who wouldn’t live up to the heights because of his attitude. But, with the help of the club and the birth of his daughter Emilia with his wife Sarah, he turned it around. He became stronger, unrecognisable today from the player that held the shirt in front of the camera on deadline day three years ago. He became disciplined, his family life overtook his party habits and that maturity translated into his football; helping his team with the nitty gritty as much as the eye-opening brilliance and picking himself up wonderfully when he’s down. He became more intelligent, using his physicality, experience and a fresh desire for scoring goals Marko was one of the standout players of last season and could have easily provided himself with the chance of playing on football’s biggest stage. However, Marko Arnautovic is a Stoke City player, loved by the club, players and fans alike. His extravagant personality does make him a controversial character but his skill is unquestionable and his growth and achievements so far have been similar. He is an outstanding footballer and deserves his image as one of the best players at Stoke City Football Club, one of the most feared wingers in the Premier League and one of the most admirable fellows in English football. 99 games, over 7500 minutes, 17 goals, 23 assists, a few tantrums and some awe-inspiring moments of sheer genius later, we’re blessed with the marvellous Marko Arnautovic we see today.
Here’s to you, Arnie, on game one hundred. Never change.
Written by Ben Rowley
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