In his second spell in Italy, Arnautović is showing signs of having transformed from the 20-year-old who so frustrated José Mourinho to a leader on and off the pitch. Arnautović netted both goals in Bologna’s 2-0 win over Sampdoria this week to take his tally to 11 for the season. They were also Bologna’s first goals since February.
But there was much more to the 32-year-old Arnautović’s performances than just the goals, as the Austria forward demonstrated spirit and leadership, too. He would have had a hat trick were it not for the crossbar, and one of his many insightful passes was a delightful through ball to Nicola Sansone, who also hit the crossbar.
Arnautović will need to again be at the top of his game when mid-table Bologna visits Juventus on Saturday. “He’s a player who’s in his own class,” said Salernitana sporting director Walter Sabatini, who signed Arnautović last summer when he was in the same role at Bologna. “He doesn’t play soccer but he designs it, he embellishes it. You watch him and you can’t help but fall in love.
“When he is in this form he becomes an obsession for the other team and a pleasure for his teammates. The goals he scored against Samp were the worst thing about his performance.”
It was that talent that persuaded Inter Milan and Mourinho to sign Arnautović on loan from FC Twente in 2009. But he made only three appearances before leaving the following summer after nevertheless picking up Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League winner’s medals.
A young Arnautović was distracted by Milan’s social scene and was frequently late to training — apart from once arriving five hours early after mixing up the times following a night out.
“Marko is a fantastic guy but he has a kid’s attitude,” then-Inter coach Mourinho said at the time. “Mario Balotelli is his best friend and they happen to have the same traits. It’s not easy.”
Arnautović went on to play for Werder Bremen, Stoke and West Ham before moving to Chinese club Shanghai Port in 2019. He was brought back to Europe by Sabatini and Bologna coach Siniša Mihajlović and immediately began repaying their faith in him.
“Mihajlović gives us so much energy and motivation; he’s like a father or an older brother for me,” Arnautović said after the Sampdoria match. “I would do anything for him and we hope that he is happy with this victory and that we have helped him with this win.”
Mihajlović has had to watch Bologna’s past two matches from the hospital, where he is undergoing treatment following the return of his leukemia. He beat the disease in 2019.
“We are going through a very difficult situation without our coach,” Bologna sporting director Riccardo Bigon said. “I need to thank all the boys, who always apply themselves with seriousness and heart. Obviously, this win is for Sinisa, who — despite the distance — talks to us every day and gives us all extra energy.”
Arnautović’s performances could earn him a move to a bigger club with Inter reportedly interested in its former player. Bologna is keen to keep hold of the Austrian, who is under contract until June 2023.
“Arnautović is one of those players who will go down in Bologna history,” Bigon said. “After the next few years you can say what Arnautović has left on Bologna, because he will be fundamental for us in the coming seasons too.
“He’s been playing very well for several matches. Now he is doing what he knows how to do … he will be a cornerstone of this Bologna side.”