herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

'Arnie' takes on terminator tag

Stoke man Arnautovic takes over Austrian crown from Bayern's Alaba

(l-r) Austrian stars David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic chat during a training session in Vienna ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland. Pic: Reuters
(l-r) Austrian stars David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic chat during a training session in Vienna ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland. Pic: Reuters

It was of course a team effort but one man in an Austrian shirt did most of the damage when Ireland last faced Austria in a qualifying campaign.

In taking four points from a possible six from Ireland in the 2014 World Cup campaign, the Austrians kept up their long tradition of having an edge over Ireland and, with that 1-0 win in Vienna in September 2013, finished off Giovanni Trapattoni's career, not just as Ireland boss but his coaching career as he never managed again.

David Alaba, then just a rising star with Bayern Munich and Austria who was only starting to make his mark, did the damage in that campaign by scoring three of their four goals against Ireland.

Come to November 2016 and while Alaba is still there for Austria and is still a key player, there's no longer the same whiff of danger from the player who has struggled at Bayern this season.

There is a new focus for the Austrian side and he's someone our players know well, as Marko Arnautovic is a team-mate at Stoke City with Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters, as well as former internationals Shay Given and Stephen Ireland.

(l-r) Marko Arnautovic celebrates a goal for Stoke City with team-mate and Ireland striker Jonathon Walters.
(l-r) Marko Arnautovic celebrates a goal for Stoke City with team-mate and Ireland striker Jonathon Walters.

Only a sub when the Austrians beat Trap's Ireland three years ago, the controversial 27-year-old 'Arnie' is not quite carrying the hopes of a nation of eight million on his back, but he is the fulcrum of their side.

A few years ago, Arnautovic was doing a good job of earning himself that "bad boy" tag and in his spells with clubs in Holland and Germany, the gossip columns lapped up all that Arnautovic could throw at them.

Now, that mantle appears to have been passed on. Arnautovic has quietened down and settle down as the family man while it's Alaba who finds himself as tabloid fodder: it was a big deal in Austria last month when the Belgrade tabloids had heaps of photos and stories about Alaba partying well into the night in Belgrade - no shame in enjoying a night out in what is the party town of the Balkans but the fact that Alaba was out on the lash right after Austria had been beaten by Serbia did not go down well. Alaba is, of course, anything but washed up and he could easily step up and harm Ireland in Vienna on Saturday night, but the gifted, volatile and influential Arnautovic is the one that they men in green need to watch.

Settled in England now after three years at Stoke, he's been up for what footballers these days call banter.

"Of course I know Jonathan Walters and Glenn Whelan very well. But at Stoke we didn't talk much about the game in Vienna," he told the media here in Vienna yesterday as the Austrians upped their preparations for a game where defeat would see them out of the race for Russia 2018.

Energy

Whelan's a bit more forthcoming on the possible duel between them, even suggesting - as a joke, obviously - that Arnautovic arranged to get himself suspended for Stoke's last game before the international break so he'd give all his energy for the national side.

"I was slagging Marco that he took the yellow card the previous week to make sure he'd be fresh for the game but it's all good, proper banter in the dressing room. But come Saturday we will be professional, kicking lumps out of each other," Whelan said.

Arnautovic will line out for the national side this weekend, though for a while there was a debate over which nation he meant. Born in Austria to a Serbian dad and an Austrian mother, he played for his native land at underage level but at the age of 21, having already won senior caps for Austria, he declared his interest in playing for Serbia.

That didn't happen as he was already committed to Austria but the offer was appreciated in his father's homeland and when Arnautovic played for Austria in Serbia last month, he was warmly received, the Serbian-language tattoos on his arms convincing the locals in Belgrade that he was of the true faith even though he played for the opposition.

There's more at stake again on Saturday, points as well as national pride.

"I know Ireland has a very strong team and wants to win. But we want to win as well," says Arnautovic.

"The Irish have played very defensively against Serbia, which will be likely the case in Vienna. Our stadium is sold out, we focus on our game, but will not underestimate Ireland under any circumstances."

Promoted articles

Entertainment News