There he was, heading two beautiful goals into the net against Ireland, putting a dagger into their hopes of winning the game. The 'he' I speak of, is of course, Mario Mandžukić. Mandžukić was a doubt to start the EURO's at forward for Croatia, with most pundits believing that Bilić would instead start Ivica Olić at striker. In an interesting twist, I'll tell you how the two of them are further intertwined. Of course we all know that Olić was injured and Mandzo got his turn to show his attacking skills and made the most of his opportunity.
Currently playing for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, Mandžukić is vastly undervalued as a player and a striker. Firstly, he absolutely torched and tormented the Irish defense as he has also done in the Bundesliga, winning the ball and holding it up until his teammates arrived in support. This is the style of play of top center forwards of old, winning aerial duels and waiting for support to arrive while holding up the ball.
To further reinforce the point of Mandžukić's aerial prowess, one must look no further than the actual goal scoring record in the Bundesliga this past season. Out of a total 12 goals that he scored for Die Wolfe, seven of them were headers. That's a whopping statistic. Not only is he capable with the ball at his feet, but also in the air, and having scored two goals on one of the biggest stages in the world, Mandzo is suddenly a man in demand. Two shots, two goals, 100% conversion rate. His first goal came out of nothing and he showed the world that he can score a goal out of nothing, with Shay Given's goalkeeping aside.
Reverting back to this club, the case is a rather interesting one. Recently, Ivica Olić agreed to a two year deal with Wolfsburg. One would think that this would be a good thing, having two players that played with each other on the national team playing together, now playing together at the same club. Not so if you are Felix Magath, manager of VFL Wolfsburg. Magath decided, even before Olić arrived, that Mandžukić was surplus to what Wolfsburg need. Thus, Olić's arrival further pushed Mandzo out the door. In a cruel twist of fate, his two goals only increased the 14 million pound transfer fee Wolfsburg want, though the player has made no demand to leave the club.
In a way however, this might be a move he deserves. Mandžukić is in the prime of his career, and you better believe a big club is looking at him as a cheaper alternative, to those other expensive French and German players being sought after. But you can bet that as time goes on and the more goals he scores, his price will go up as will his demand. However, for a player that doesn't catch all the headlines, he's surely made a name for himself relatively quickly.
Written by Vedran Ćavara, CroatianSports.com