Manchester United are GAMBLING on Marko Arnautovic: Ex-West Ham man took a sabbatical in China before finding form in Serie A – and fans don’t want him – so is the 33-year-old REALLY worth it?
- Manchester United have had a £7.5m bid for Marko Arnautovic rejected
- The Austria international scored 15 goals for Serie A side Bologna last season
- Juventus had eyed the 33-year-old up as a back-up to Serbian Dusan Vlahovic
- Edinson Cavani and Odion Ighalo are among veterans club United have gone for
- With fans also irate over potential signing, is Arnautovic really the answer?
Manchester United fans probably thought they wouldn’t see anything quite as shocking as their 2-1 defeat by Brighton on Sunday – but these days at OId Trafford, you should always expect the unexpected.
As Erik ten Hag took charge of his first Premier League games as boss at Old Trafford, news was emerging the club had made a £7.5million bid for former West Ham and Stoke striker Marko Arnautovic.
Just a few hours later and another shambolic performance in front of their home fans, that offer had been rejected by the Austrian forward’s current club Bologna.
Manchester United have had a bid rejected for Bologna and Austria forward Marko Arnautovic
It came amid United’s shock 2-1 defeat by Brighton at Old Trafford in their Premier League opener
All transfers see some sort of haggling go on over the final price, but the target himself is just as alarming as what is going on on the pitch.
Ten Hag and the United faithful would have needed no reminder their squad still requires several reinforcements even before their season opener. Unfortunately for them, they were given it regardless in ugly fashion.
With Anthony Martial ruled out through injury, new midfield signing Christian Eriksen filled the space usually occupied by the centre forward, playing as a sort of false nine and being flanked by Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford.
But the England internationals looked off the pace against the ebullient Seagulls, while the false nine role is far from Eriksen’s most comfortable position.
Erik ten Hag would have needed no reminder his squad still requires several reinforcements
The ideal situation would have seen Cristiano Ronaldo fill that role vacated by Martial, but the Portuguese still wants out of Old Trafford and is far from being match ready having missed most of pre-season.
After United’s 2-1 loss to Brighton, manager Ten Hag admitted he needs more forwards in his squad and didn’t have ‘a typical No 9 available’.
Signings are therefore required in that area, and it has led them to seek a deal for a man who has scored 43 Premier League goals in his career.
During his previous spells in England, Arnautovic demonstrated his ability to play out wide or through the middle, and Sportsmail understands that his versatility makes him an appealing option for United. He is also expected to be inexpensive.
Arnautovic enjoyed a brief spell in the Chinese Super League with Shanghai Port – scoring 20 goals in 39 games – before returning to Europe to be closer to his family amid the pandemic.
United’s attention has switched to the man who has scored 43 Premier League goals
Arnautovic enjoyed a spell with Shanghai Port before returning to Europe due to the pandemic
The Austria international signed for Bologna last summer, and he proved those who believed he was not ready for European competition having spent two seasons in China wrong.
He was a crucial member of their side last season and netted 15 goals in 33 appearances. The ex-Stoke star is now settled in Italy, crediting Bologna for ‘giving me back the desire to play football.’
The relationship between Arnautovic and coach Sinisa Mihajlovic is also excellent, with reports in Italy claiming the latter is trying to use it to convince the former to stay following United’s interest.
‘Sinisa Mihajlovic is an incredible person and he was an idol for my brother and me. We always watched him play,’ Arnautovic’s agent and brother Danijel said in June.
‘He counts a lot for my brother, as a man and coach. Marko scored 15 goals last season and Mihajlovic deserves credit for that.’
He was a crucial member for Bologna last season and netted 15 goals in 33 appearances
Bologna too are in a strong position, with Arnautovic still having two years left to run on his contract.
He has made such an impression in Italy in the past 12 months that Massimiliano Allegri and Juventus were reportedly interested in signing him as a back-up to £62m January addition Dusan Vlahovic.
‘He can make the difference in any team and of course, there are rumours about big clubs interested, such as Juventus,’ the striker’s representative added.
‘Vlahovic is a young striker, he is only 22 and could benefit from playing with a forward who has the experience of Marko. Anything is possible in football, you never know what could happen. This is football.’
The relationship between Arnautovic and coach Sinisa Mihajlovic is also excellent
Juventus boss Max Allegri (right) reportedly wanted Arnautovic as back-up to Dusan Vlahovic (left)
But Bologna CEO Claudio Fenucci warned the Serie A giants off their star striker last month, flatly stating: ‘Marko is staying, he is not for sale.’
Whether United would be so forthrightly rejected is the outstanding question. Reports suggest he is fascinated by a Premier League return and that could certainly turn matters in United’s favour.
Talking about his move to England in 2013 after struggling at Inter Milan and Werder Bremen, he told La Gazzetta dello Sport in December: ‘My new career was born in Stoke: I was focused on football. Like with West Ham. Beautiful time in England.’
The issue for United fans conversely – which has become the worrying norm over the years at Old Trafford – is the profile of their target.
Arnautovic turns 34 in April 2023, and he is not the first striker not at the peak of his career that United have gone for.
United have seen forwards such as Radamel Falcao (left) and Edinson Cavani (right) fail to make an impact
Edinson Cavani joined under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a 33-year-old. A return of 19 goals in 59 appearances brought some sort of award but injuries ultimately prevented him from making a more significant impact.
Yet the 35-year-old Uruguayan – Paris Saint-Germain’s record goalscorer – remains the only example which could be considered anything close to worthwhile.
Radamel Falcao’s arrival from Monaco was met with much fanfare, and while he was just 28 at the time, he joined on loan having spent six months on the sidelines during the previous season due to an ACL injury.
Louis van Gaal questioned his fitness throughout the season and a disappointing loan spell ended with four goals scored in 29 appearances.
Cavani and Falcao however had once upon a time been among the most feared strikers in Europe with their exploits at PSG and Atletico Madrid respectively.
Odion Ighalo was another veteran forward signed who could not provide a long-term solution
By that gauge, Odion Ighalo 39 goals in 99 appearances for Watford were commendable but far from the distinguished profile United should have been aiming for.
The 30-year-old Nigeria international was always complimented by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after joining on loan in 2020, but United fans were not fooled into thinking he was in any way a long-term option, despite his five goals in 23 games.
The negativity around their pursuit of their latest target in that category – which has been vociferous from fans after his slurs at Euro 2020 – however has been compounded by what their so-called top-six rivals have done in the same area.
Erling Haaland showed all his class with a brace on his Premier League debut for their Manchester rivals on Sunday, while £85m Darwin Nunez now has two goals in as many games for Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Manchester City have rectified their issues with Norway star Erling Haaland
Arsenal and Tottenham went Brazilian and signed 25-year-old forwards Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, who have established themselves in the Premier League.
Even Chelsea realised they needed goals after losing Romelu Lukaku on loan, and while a central option was not signed, winger Raheem Sterling has been scoring plenty for a number of seasons.
It is therefore almost ridiculous United are scrambling around to strengthen their options while their competitors have gone about addressing similar forward issues in such a serene manner.
Whether that failure to also add is down to the lack of appeal of joining a rebuilding United, or the fact the club are panicking with just a few weeks of the window remaining is irrelevant.
Liverpool’s £85m signing Darwin Nunez has two goals in as many games for Jurgen Klopp’s men
Both situations are plausible and they are equally as disconcerting for a side which arguably more than any other needed to back its manager this summer with significant expenditure.
Arnautovic of course could still join and add some sort of Premier League knowhow. But it is the sort of stopgap option that has kept United fans frustrated for years, and a far cry from recruiting players in their pomp like Robin van Persie and Dimitar Berbatov.
The harshest detractors would use his signing as symbolic of the mess upstairs, but it does appear ten Hag is the latest manager who is going to suffer from United’s long-standing haphazard approach in the transfer market.
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