Everyone loves a character

Posted by James Whittaker

Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty ImagesMarko Arnautovic played hard for Austria in a 3-0 loss to Germany -- then took a very public nap after the game.

Everyone loves a character -- that’s what they say anyway, and from the sound of it Stoke City’s new bad boy Marko Arnautovic is the one to fill Mario Balotelli’s sizable and glitzy boots in that respect in the Premier League.

Marko and Mario actually roomed together when the Serb was at Inter Milan (I assume they were in sound- and fire-proof rooms) and became good friends. The impression he made on José Mourinho though was perhaps not as favourable with Chelsea’s old/new manager saying he is "a fantastic person but has the attitude of a child."

You get the feeling Marko was the Mentos to Balotelli’s bottle of Coke, a lethal combination that José split up before they exploded. So off to the Bundesliga he went, rocking up to training in boots embroidered “Champions League Winner 2010” despite not featuring in the squad that day. It wasn’t long before he was in trouble there, too.

-Hughes: I'll cope with Arnautovic
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I’m not able to list his entire rap sheet as I’ll go over my word quota, but needless to say his arrival on these shores will have been met with hopeful expectation from the local charities in Stoke who often benefit from player fines.

Some have suggested signing a character such as Marko is a risky move which courts controversy and risks disrupting an established and tight-knit group. They’re right, but by the same token, management and indeed the fans must realise that to get a player of such talent, there is always going to be baggage; otherwise he'd have stayed at the likes of Inter Milan and not made his way to the bright lights of the Potteries.

It should also be noted that we have something called a Manager, whose job it is to err . . . .manage the various characters and personalities in his dressing room. It’s a confident man who makes that call, who backs his judgement to succeed where some of the world’s most decorated have failed. More likely Mark Hughes will make more of an effort than the clubs who can sell and replace with ease. Stoke were known as Battersea Dog’s Home under Tony Pulis, given his love of collecting waifs and strays. But often, under the former manager, as soon as one of those strays went to the toilet inside it would be kicked and banished to the yard, never to be seen again. At least one of those strays has been brought back inside in Jermaine Pennant. Much like he was given a clean slate, Arnautovic will be hoping for the much of the same at his new club.

You can’t help being excited by the unpredictability of players like Marko, though. It seems almost fitting that he has been given the number 10 shirt, taking over from the mercurial and temperamental Ricardo Fuller. Much like with Ric, the manager will be hoping that being within a good group of professionals will help Marko on and off the pitch. And if it happens Hughes needs to intervene, I wouldn’t think the man who fell out so publicly with Sir Alex Ferguson would shirk the challenge -- he certainly never did so on the pitch.

I have to admit I'd read more about his various misdemeanours than I had seen him on the pitch, so I took the opportunity Friday night to see how he fared against the might of Germany playing for Austria in a World Cup qualifier. What I did learn was that he will certainly see more of the ball at Stoke than he did with his national side as they struggled to get into the game, or come to think of it, pass a ball.

What did encourage me though was his work rate in Austria's 3-0 loss, his willingness to track back and help out the defence when his side were on the back foot.

The next game he’ll feature in will be against Ireland, where he will come face-to-face with one Jon Walters, who many are saying will be dropped to accommodate him. I’m not so sure it will be a straight swap though, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Marko lead the line or feature on the left depending on the opposition.

In fact, it looks likely that he’ll actually be face-to-face with another Stoke City player, Marc Wilson, who continues to be deployed at left back for his country if not his club. That’s assuming Marko actually makes it to the game, of course; the last I saw of him he was asleep on stage in the post-match press conference Friday. Characters, eh? You’ve gotta love him.

Vis Unita Fortior


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