Stoke City have been left reeling after Austrian star winger Marko Arnautovic handed in a transfer request amid mounting interest from Premier League rivals West Ham United.
The 28-year-old is currently in Switzerland with The Potters on the club’s pre-season tour and played 45 minutes in the 1-0 win against Neuchatel Xamax on Monday evening. However, the Stoke Sentinel and The Telegraph have revealed that Arnautovic has informed Mark Hughes that he wants to depart the Bet365 Stadium and has submitted a formal transfer request.
The news comes after it was confirmed that West Ham have already had one bid turned down for the Austrian, believed to be £15 million. Slaven Bilic is a great admirer of the winger and has made the player one his prime targets for the summer transfer window although it remains to be seen whether the club are willing to increase their initial offer.
The Hammers are looking to remould their forward line with Bilic keen to add more power and ‘personality’ to his current squad in preparation for the coming season, and Arnautovic fits the bill.
From bad-boy to superstar
Marko Arnautovic has been a key figure at Stoke City since he became one of Mark Hughes first signings in the summer of 2013. He arrived with a ‘bad-boy reputation’ after failing to settle at Bundesliga side Werder Bremen following a number of high profile off the pitch incidents.
Whilst at Inter Milan, Jose Mourinho described him as “a fantastic person but with the attitude of a child”, and there were various stories circulating prior to his arrival in England of late-night clubbing, fights with team mates, sustaining injuries through playing with his dog, and infamously ‘losing’ Samuel Eto’o’s Bentley. Arnautovic was referred to as the bad-boy of Austrian, with his reputation leaving him short of suitors in 2013.
Stoke City’s newly appointed manager decided that the winger was worth the gamble and paid a modest £3 million to secure the winger’s services – it is a decision that has turned out to be a masterstroke.
Arnautovic is a hugely popular figure in The Potteries and has found a new sense of maturity. He is charismatic, has an air of arrogance and a swagger, but has proven to be a vital part of the club’s recent success. Pace, power, strength and exuberant skill, the 28-year-old has all of the attributes that make him one of the Premier League’s most dangerous attacking players – but only when he is in the mood.
Arnautovic can disappear during large swathes of matches, often appearing disinterested or moody, but is capable of turning it on within the blink of an eye and create or score a goal. Despite his inconsistences, he has been Stoke’s leading goal scorer and creator in the previous two campaigns.
Stoke prepared to play hard ball
Mark Hughes has confirmed that West Ham United have made an offer for Marko Arnautovic, but insists that the Austrian is not for sale. Speaking to the Stoke Sentinel the Welshman explained:
“Marko and his people have put in a transfer request but that happens on occasions. Any comings and goings are at our discretion and it’s our decision ultimately. Players can express an opinion or view in terms of where they see their future but at the end of the day … we have the final say. We’ve never put him up for sale, we’ve never said he’s for sale. … There’s been a bid, but bids have to be reasonable and that one wasn’t”.
Hughes was referring to West Ham United’s £15 million offer but, whilst the player may be keen on a mover, Stoke City currently hold all of the cards. The club are under no financial pressure to sell and Arnautovoic only signed a new contract last summer after Everton had shown an interest. With the Austrian’s contract not set to expire until 2020, The Potters currently have the power to demand an exaggerated transfer fee or block any move altogether.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Stoke chairman Peter Coates insisted that Arnautovic could still remain at the Bet365 Stadium for the forthcoming season:
“We have received a bid from West Ham for Marko and it was turned down. Mark is planning to meet with the player and hopefully he can find a positive resolution, as he did last year. We will only sell Marko if the terms are right but he’s not a player we want to lose”.
Is a move likely?
Marko Arnautovic’s transfer request heaps further pressure on Stoke City manager Mark Hughes.
There were calls from some sections of the club’s fan base for the Welshman to be sacked at the end of last season after a disappointing campaign that ended in a bottom-half finish and early exits from both cup competitions. However, the Stoke hierarchy have insisted that they remain supportive of a manager who has previously led the club to three consecutive top-ten finishes, although a repeat of the previous year is unlikely to be seen as acceptable.
Hughes will be determined to fight to retain one of his star players and will certainly not be keen on selling to a direct competitor. The Potters are likely to play hard ball with West Ham United who will have to significantly increase their opening bid if they wish to secure Arnautovic’s services. However, in modern football player-power tends to be the defining factor when it comes to potential transfers and if the 28-year-old is determined to depart then it could be difficult for the club to stop him.
What is certain, is that this transfer drama is likely to rumble on for many weeks yet.
Featured imaged all rights reserved Thomas Haumer.