Mario Mandzukic: Player Profile

Atletico’s New Frontman 

Personal information
Full name: Mario Mandzukic
Date of birth: 21 May 1986
Age: 28
Place of birth: Slavonski Brod, SFR Yugoslavia
Height: 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in)
Playing position: Striker

Club information
Current team:
Atletico Madrid

Youth career
1992–1996 TSF Ditzingen
1996–2003 Marsonia
2003–2004 Zeljeznicar Slavonski Brod

Senior career
2004–2005 Marsonia 23 Appearances, 14 goals
2005–2007 NK Zagreb 55 Appearances, 17 goals
2007–2010 Dinamo Zagreb 128 Appearances, 63 goals
2010–2012 VfL Wolfsburg 60 Appearances, 20 goals
2012–2014 Bayern Munich 88 Appearances, 48 goals
2014– Atl├ętico Madrid 4 Appearances, 2 goals
National team
2004–2005 Croatia U19 10 Appearances, 3 goals
2007 Croatia U20 1 Appearance, 1 goal
2006–2008 Croatia U21 9 Appearances, 1 goal
2007– Croatia 53 Appearances, 17 goals

If his character and style are anything to go by, the Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic will love it at Vicente Calderon. And if he keeps doing what he does best, the Atleti faithful will love him back.

His technique leaves much to be desired, and he doesn't even touch the ball too many times during a game. He can rarely beat an opponent one-on-one. Instead, he is this vehement and incredibly powerful storm trooper, leading the charge with the ferocity of a barbarian warlord ready to conquer and pillage. 

Opponents bounce off him as if trying to mount a moving vehicle. But Mandzukic is not a classical battering ram of a striker, either. Rather, he is a mean pressing machine, using his seemingly endless stamina to drive defenders back or pull them wide, creating space for others to exploit. 

In that, he is perhaps a somewhat idiosyncratic player at top level: a centre-forward whose true value lies not as much in goals scored as in the amount of physical work he does. Of course, that was never going to be good enough for Pep Guardiola. 

Although the Bayern coach was aware of the qualities his typical striker brought to the mix, a divorce had been on the cards ever since the news of the club agreeing terms with Robert Lewandowski leaked, and the Croat’s transfer this summer hardly comes as a surprise.

First and foremost, though, he'll be expected to be a key goalscorer for Atleti, and the Croatian has proven more than capable of doing that: He scored 18 in 21 league starts for Bayern last term and 15 in 22 the season before. 

Now 28 years old, he's in the prime of his career and has dealt comfortably with the expectation and consistency needed to shine at a big European club. Mandzukic has scored more than a dozen goals for his country since debuting for the senior squad in 2007 and added to his impressive resume at this summer's 2014 World Cup in Brazil. So long as the gifted striker continues to make the most of his chances around the box and open up scoring opportunities for others with his presence, he's sure to become a hit in Madrid.

Several English and Italian clubs were rumoured to be interested in his services, but it was Atletico Madrid who signed him in the end. All things considered, it’s not hard to see why it could prove to be a very good choice for both Mandzukic and his new team. They can hardly be much more different from the possession-based football of the Bavarians and their strategist Pep Guardiola, the high priest of tiki-taka. 

The Rojiblancos coach Diego Simeone talks of guts and balls and self-sacrifice; he bases his football around quick transition and devastating counter-attacks. The Spanish champions have established patterns of their attacking, as well as defensive play, although they do keep evolving. Last season they often looked too dependent on their star striker Diego Costa, who scored 27 league goals, 35 per cent of their La Liga total.

He left for Chelsea and the Croat was brought in to take his place. Mandzukic will probably not score as many as Costa. He’s a good, but by no means a superb finisher; most of his goals for Bayern last season came from close range, with a whopping 43.5 per cent of them headers. When he’s in the air, it’s very difficult to stop him.

What he could do, however, is make others score more often. Perhaps that was the logic behind signing him: since it’s next to impossible to find a like-for-like replacement for Costa, at least one of comparable quality, Simeone must find a way to reduce the team’s over-reliance on their star man up front. Players like Koke, Raul Garcia and Arda Turan all provide good support from behind. The trio registered 20 assists among them; they also scored 18 goals, while they arguably could score more. With Mandzukic on board, that could well become Simeone’s new agenda. 

While he is not as complete a player as Costa is, he offers something different in terms of build-up play. His predecessor would drop deep trying to pull forward the back line, then run at defenders one-on-one and search for space behind them. Mandzukic will press them back or work the wide areas, constantly taunting opponents with his relentless energy and sheer force. He should also become a focal point for his team’s quick counters. Due to his ability to beat any opponent in the air, we are likely to see him targeted by those long balls Simeone’s men like to try quite often, doing lay-offs for team mates or holding on to the ball while help arrives.

But above all, the intense Argentinean coach could prove just the right boss for Mandzukic, one who can harness his skills and put them into optimal use. If the player’s character and his work ethic are anything to go by, he’ll love working with Diego Simeone—and the feeling could easily become mutual. In Vicente Calderon, Mandzukic might have finally found a true home.