Why Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic is not as mad as it may seem

·4-min read
Why Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic is not as mad as it may seem - GETTY IMAGES
Why Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic is not as mad as it may seem - GETTY IMAGES

Manchester United supporters greeted news of interest in former Stoke City striker Marko Arnautovic with dismay as the club desperately seeks additions in the closing weeks of the transfer window.

While central midfield looks staggeringly short of quality, the uncertainty over Cristiano Ronaldo's future means United are also in need of presence and goal threat up front.

The club view 33-year-old Arnautovic as a low cost option while they perform surgery on other areas of the team.

There is an argument that any short-term solution is an admission of failure in the transfer market, and signing Arnautovic would certainly not say much for United's planning.

Despite the uninspiring nature of the deal though, there might be a few reasons to be optimistic about Arnautovic's chances of success.

His very good season in Italy

Arnautovic's career looked to be winding down in the Chinese Super League, but he enjoyed a surprising return to prominence in Serie A last season.

The Austrian international scored 14 league goals for Bologna, a commendable tally for a club who finished 13th.

Bologna have a reputation for being one of Italy's smart operators, recently selling Takehiro Tomiyasu and Aaron Hickey to Premier League clubs for a healthy profit.

To put Arnautovic's goal record in context, he scored just two fewer than Gianluca Scamacca who moved to West Ham for £35.5 million this summer. He was only three goals behind Tammy Abraham, who could command double Scamacca's transfer fee, although both players are considerably younger than Arnautovic.

Just two of those 14 goals for Bologna were penalties, and his goal return almost exactly tallied with his expected goals produced so it was no fluke.

Four of his Serie A goals were headers, which suggests he could offer United some physicality in the penalty box. In the opening weekend defeat against Brighton, creative midfielders Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes were rotating into the centre-forward position.

All of Arnautovic's goals came from inside the area, using his strength and close control to roll defenders in a manner familiar to those who watched him in England.

The Ten Hag connection

Arnautovic played under Manchester United coach Steve McClaren when he was manager of Dutch side FC Twente and Erik ten Hag was his assistant.

While their spell together was more than a decade ago, it gives them some insight into Arnautovic's character which has been viewed as highly questionable.

He was involved in a spat with former manager Mark Hughes after what appeared to be a mocking celebration when he scored against Stoke for West Ham. He subsequently agitated for a move from West Ham to China and got his wish in January 2019.

At Euro 2020, he was handed a one-match ban after aiming an anti-Albanian slur at North Macedonia's Ezgjan Alioski although Uefa cleared him of any discriminatory behaviour.

Marko Arnautovic - SHUTTERSTOCK
Marko Arnautovic - SHUTTERSTOCK

Ten Hag wants to use a 4-3-3 with the centre-forward dropping off the last line to defence to link play with the attacking midfielders, something Arnautovic has the touch and technique to pull off.

Whether he has the speed and intensity to press from the front at Premier League tempo is highly doubtful

Premier League proven

One of Arnautovic's merits is his Premier League experience, and reaching double figures for goals in three of four seasons at Stoke and West Ham was credible.

On his better days, Arnautovic's barrelling runs were a real nuisance for defenders although he suffered from a tendency to blow hot and cold.

The prospect of a familiar name coming to Old Trafford has not filled everyone with optimism though, with Gary Neville concerned about the move's similarities with previous transfers.

"I've got a comment on everything in the world apart from Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic," Neville joked on Sky Sports.

"We've seen Falcao, Ibrahimovic, Cavani, these desperate experienced signings - Ighalo - we've seen it for eight or 10 years and it's a pattern."

If Arnautovic does move to Old Trafford, he will face an uphill battle to win over the doubters.