From 'new Ibrahimovic' to Inter reject – is Austria ace Arnautovic finally growing up?

COMMENT Marko Arnautovic was just nine years old when the World Cup was staged in France in 1998. Born to an Austrian mother and a Serbian father, the Vienna native was captivated by the performances of the Balkan nations. “I promised my mother that I’d be a famous footballer one day after seeing players such as Croatia’s Davor Suker and Serbia’s Predrag Mijatovic shine in France,” he says. Eighteen years on, in the very same country, Arnautovic now has the opportunity to become a household name across the globe.
Until now, Arnautovic is arguably more infamous than famous. Considered a talented but difficult character from his teenage years, he attracted the interest of Feyenoord while still lining out for Twente’s reserve side. Then, after only one season in Enschende, in which he scored 14 times in all competitions, the 19-year-old forward was courted by the likes of Chelsea and Lazio. However, he ultimately ended up at Inter. ‘The new Ibrahimovic’ had ultimately been chosen to replace the Swedish striker with whom he shared so many characteristics: Balkan parentage, an imposing physique, excellent technique and a fiery temperament.
“They’ve said that I’m like Zlatan an infinite amount of times,” Arnautovic said of the Austrian and German press upon his arrival in Milan. “It makes me happy, though, because he is my No.1 but he’s a great and I’m only a little boy.” Related Koller urges Austria to take their chances Balotelli: Don’t write off Spain & their ‘slow Messi’ Balotelli on Italy’s chances at Euro 2016 Austria – Hungary Preview: Schopf demands supreme effort against neighbours It didn’t take long for then-Inter coach Jose Mourinho to realise as much. Arnautovic was just 20 when he joined Inter from Twente. It was a culture shock but one which he quickly embraced. “When I was in Enschende, beside my apartment there was a field with cows grazing in it,” he explained. “Then, I’m in Milan and discover Fashion Week, the restaurants, the clubs and only beautiful women.
“At the time, I didn’t have a girlfriend. I was 19. And I said to myself: ‘Well, now I’m here, nobody knows what will happen in the future, so better to quickly make a name for myself!’ And I managed that.”

That he did, but for all the wrong reasons. Arnautovic endeared himself to the Nerazzurri fans – but for his eccentric behaviour off the field rather than anything that he did on it. He gatecrashed team-mates’ interviews, lost Samuel Eto’o’s car and entertained Inter supporters with silly songs and crazy dances.
Unsurprisingly, he became good friends with Mario Balotelli, much to Mourinho’s chagrin. “Marko is a fantastic guy but he has the attitude of a child,” the boss complained. “Balotelli is his best friend and happens to have the same characteristics. That is not easy [to handle].”
Still, Mourinho had got the very best out of Ibrahimovic the season beforehand and he still felt optimistic about doing likewise with the younger, less polished Arnautovic. Indeed, midway through the season, Mourinho admonished him for turning up late for training. Consequently, when the Austrian responded by arriving four hours ahead of schedule the following morning, the Inter boss was so enthused that he gave the young forward his watch!
At that point, something clicked in Arnautovic. “I realised that I had to do something,” he explained. “From that point on, I trained well. Mourinho promised me a contract but then he went to Real [Madrid].”
As a result, Inter ultimately decided against making Arnautovic’s loan move to San Siro permanent, sending him back to Twente. It was easy to understand why, given that the forward, who had arrived in Milan still recovering from a fractured foot, had recorded just three appearances – and no goals – during the 2009-10 Serie A season.

Besides, it quickly became evident that Arnautovic had yet to really grow up. His subsequent spell at Werder Bremen was blighted by several off-field incidents. As well as labelling his new home city “a dump”, he and team-mate Eljero Elia were suspended from first-team duties in April 2013 after being caught speeding on the Autobahn at 03:00 two days before a Bundesliga game. “We cannot tolerate unprofessional behaviour like that,” said coach Thomas Schaaf.
He did little to ingratiate himself to his compatriots either. He had another brush with the law in Vienna, telling a police officer: “Shut up! I earn so much I could buy your life.”
Stoke City thus knew that they were taking a major risk when they signed Arnautovic from Bremen that summer. However, Potters manager Mark Hughes believed that his club had pulled off a major coup. “It made sense to us and made sense to him that this is the right club for him,” the Welshman explained. “He’s got a real desire to make an impression.”
Arnautovic has done just that, earning himself cult status at the Britannia Stadium with his flair and goals. The player himself says that marriage and fatherhood have changed him for the better. Certainly, he now seems a calmer, more grounded individual, which is precisely why Austria boss Marcel Koller had no issue with starting him in all 10 of the team’s qualifiers for Euro 2016.
“I must keep myself under ­control,” Arnautovic told The Daily Telegraph. “I have a big ­responsibility as a father. That helps me to be more sensible. It’s better I keep my mouth shut. Let my feet do the talking.”
However, in Austria’s final warm-up game for Euro 2016, he was accused of spitting on Kenny Tete. The evidence was inconclusive but the onus is now on Arnautovic to prove beyond all doubt that he has finally matured and is now capable of becoming the famous footballer that he promised his mother that he would be.

Kovacic rules out Inter return under Mancini

The Croatia international, who has fallen out of favour at Real Madrid, insists his “weird” relationship with the Nerazzurri boss means a return to the San Siro isn’t on the cards

Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic has ruled out a return to Inter while Roberto Mancini remains in charge.

The Croatia international left San Siro for Madrid in 2015, but has seen limited playing time for the Champions League winners, fuelling speculation of possibly linking back up with his former club. 

But despite reiterating his affinity for Inter, the 22-year-old admitted that he cannot work under Mancini, who himself re-joined the Serie A side in 2014. 

“I won’t go back there with Mancini on the bench,” he said.
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“I had a weird relationship with him, but these are personal things and it’s best not to get into them.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future, nobody does. I had two-and-a-half years with Inter and I’m a fan.”

Kovacic is currently preparing for Euro 2016 with Croatia, who start the tournament at the Parc des Princes against Turkey on Sunday.

Chinese group Suning complete Inter takeover

Suning Holdings Group announced the details of their acquisition of the Serie A club from president Erick Thohir at a news event on Monday

Chinese retailer Suning Holdings Group have announced they will take a majority control of Inter.

The group have purchased a 70 per cent stake in the club from Erick Thohir, who became majority shareholder and president of Inter in 2013, for a reported fee of €270million.

Suning’s deal was announced on Sunday via the social media pages of Super League outfit Jiangsu Suning, before confirmation of the deal came at a news conference held on Monday.

Zhang Jidong, chairman of the Suning group, welcomed the deal as a watershed moment for a growing football market in China.

“Ours is an international business and our brand will soon be big in Europe, too. Now we have an alliance with an international and European top club. Football is growing at an incredible rate in China and the acquisition of Inter is a strategic move,” he said.

“I’m convinced that undertaking Inter, with its glorious history, is a mission, a responsibility. I’ve become passionate about Inter, being part of the club is a huge responsibility. I thank Thohir for choosing us.”
Thohir, who will stay on as president for the immediate future, and vice-president Javier Zanetti were among the Inter directors attending the event in Jiangsu.

Honorary president Massimo Moratti, who ran the club between 1995 and 2013 and retained a minority stake following Thohir’s takeover, is expected to step aside from any official involvement in the running of the club.

Former Inter CEO Ernesto Paolillo branded Thohir’s spell in charge as “a failure”, with the club having failed to win a trophy or qualify for the Champions League in that time.

“It was inevitable Thohir would sell as his project has been a failure,” he told Radio 24. “The club’s budget was in the red. My vote for his management is a four out of 10.”

Inter are now the third club in Serie A to fall under foreign ownership, with Roma and Bologna controlled by respective American and Canadian groups.

AC Milan are expected to conclude a deal to sell a majority stake to a Chinese consortium in the coming weeks following negotiations with president Silvio Berlusconi.

Inter 'always interested in a guy like Kovacic' – Ausilio

The Serie A side have admitted they would be keen to bring the Croatia international back from his spell at the Bernabeu but feel he could still have a future in Spain

Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio says the door is always open for Mateo Kovacic to return to San Siro, but he hopes the midfielder becomes a success at Real Madrid.

Kovacic left Inter for Madrid last year, but endured a difficult first season, making just eight La Liga starts.

The Croatia international failed to make Zinedine Zidane’s 18-man squad for last Saturday’s Champions League final against Atletico Madrid, and has been heavily linked with a move away from Spain.

Juventus and AC Milan are said to be interested in Kovacic’s services, but Ausilio would like to see the 22-year-old spurn their advances in favour of trying to establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu or a return to the Nerazzuri.
Ausilio told Radio Umbria: “If he has to come back to Italy, selfishly I hope it’s not to AC Milan or Juve. Inter would hate to see Mateo with another shirt because we are fond of him.

“We always have an interest in a guy like Kovacic, but we cannot set anything. I hope he continues on his path at Madrid, a team that has just won the Champions League.

“It’s true that he did not play much, but Mateo, for his age, has many appearances in professional leagues such as la Liga and Serie A.

“If he is patient, he may become important for Real.”

Signing Yaya Toure not a priority for Inter – director

The Ivory Coast international is being strongly linked with a move to the Nerazzurri but club chief Piero Ausilio insists they have other matters to focus on first

Inter are interested in Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure but are in no rush to push through a deal as they sort a change in ownership, says the Serie A side’s director Piero Ausilio.

Toure, who has just one year left on his current deal at City, is expected to leave the club this summer with speculation claiming incoming boss Pep Guardiola is keen for the Ivorian to move on.

The 33-year-old has been strongly linked with a switch to Inter for several months, which would see him reunite with former City boss Roberto Mancini at the San Siro.

However, Ausilio says plans to sign new players have been shelved until Inter’s ownership situation is sorted, with Chinese investors Suning Commerce Group set to purchase a majority 70 per cent stake from Nerazzurri president Erick Thohir.

“Yaya Toure is a player that we really like,” Ausilio told reporters. “But first we have to sort out [the] ownership change.
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“There are still things to be sorted out between Thohir, [Massimo] Moratti and the Chinese group. That is why we have not pursued Toure yet, but we are interested.

“As a club we are aware of the challenges we face, but we will strive to get better. We are Inter and our goal can’t be to finish fourth.

“There are obviously other teams who have similar ambitions but we are determined to be in the Champions League.”

Toure scored six goals in 32 Premier League matches as City finished fourth this season.