Marko Arnautovic is the latest player at the club who could fall under the category of ‘Players who were absolutely brilliant, the fans adored, but wanted to leave or had to leave.’
When we signed Arnie in July 2017 for a club record fee, we knew what we were getting. He’d downed tools at Stoke in order to get his move to us. Jose Mourinho has previously claimed that during his time as Inter Milan manager, it was Arnie who was more of a rogue character than Mario Balotelli. So, we knew we weren’t getting an angel.
The beginning of his career in east London was a tough one. Slaven Bilic’s early managerial heroics were being undone by a stadium move and poor player recruitment, and Arnie suffered as a result. He was played out wide where he was almost always ineffective, and he was sent off in just his second appearance for elbowing Southampton’s Jack Stephens – most probably born out of his frustration at not being effective.
We’ve seen that frustration on many an occasion, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing all of the time. Arnie wants to be the main man, the centre of attention, the goal scorer, the hero. We’ve tasted that from him. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s both happy and frustrated, with relatively equal results.
David Moyes’ decision to play him through the middle wasn’t necessarily a masterstroke because we’d all been calling for Bilic to do just that, but it was a justified decision. He finished his first season at the club with 11 goals and we finally felt we’d found someone to adore once more after Payet’s untimely departure.
But this season has brought back old memories, old scars of previous betrayals. It was no surprise to see Arnie’s named being linked with a move away from the club come January 2019 after he’d netted five goals in the opening stages of the season. He was making headlines for all the right reasons and he was getting noticed. He was a superb signing, and will always be given favourable odds to hit double figures in goals with the likes of betting sites every season.
But what we didn’t expect was him asking to leave, especially in order to complete a switch to the Chinese Super League for a wage almost three times what we were paying him. I cannot blame him for wanting to move for the money, but I do blame him for the way he handled the whole situation and how his behaviour effected the team’s performances on the pitch.
Of course, he stayed, announcing a new contract just a couple of minutes after we were thrashed by AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup, in what can only be described as something only West Ham could do. It was farcical – a PR disaster – but something we’re all so used to seeing from the club, even when the bookmakers had AFC Wimbledon as underdogs in that match.
Either way, we’ll still be West Ham. Let’s just hope we’ll be West Ham with Marko for a little while longer.