It’s a rarity at the highest level of modern football to have world class players best known for their levels of ‘shithousery’ over their ability on the pitch, but Croatia international striker Mario Mandžukić is right up there with Sergio Ramos and Diego Costa as one of the best.
The 32-year-old’s antics make him one of the more controversial figures in European football, with fans always split between loving Mandžukić’s occasional stray elbows and hating them.
But the veteran forward is much more than just p***ing off his opponents, and Mandžukić’s quality on the pitch has been recognised by Juventus with the club offering him a new two-year contract in Turin.
Mandžukić has spent nine years in Europe’s top five leagues following a move to VfL Wolfsburg in 2010, joining from Dinamo Zagreb for just £6.3m.
It was the Croatian’s second spell at a club in Germany – he was with TSF Ditzingen as a youth player until 1996 – and he took to the Bundesliga like a duck to water, scoring or assisting 32 goals in just 60 appearances.
It was much of the same for Mandžukić at Bayern Munich two years later and he even went on to win the Champions League during Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winning season in 2013, scoring the opening goal of their final against Borussia Dortmund.
One year at Atlético Madrid came after his spell in Bavaria, but Mandžukić was on the move once again when Serie A champions Juventus came knocking at the end of the 2014/15 season.
Since joining the Bianconeri and transitioning from a striker in his prime to his twilight years, Mandžukić has had to adapt under Massimiliano Allegri to maintain his place as a regular part of the first-team in Turin.
The Croatian’s first two years at Juventus were spent as the club’s main striker, but he was eventually pushed out to the left wing – his position in the Champions League final in 2017 – where Mandžukić has now played in exactly one-third of his games with the club.
Despite naturally playing as a target man through the middle, Mandžukić offers Juventus with a lot of extra defensive cover while playing on the left, something which is highlighted by the fact they’ve only ever lost six games with the Croatian out wide.
But Mandžukić is still best utilised through the middle, and since taking his first steps in Europe’s top five leagues he has scored almost equally either on the ground or in the air – netting 54 goals on his right foot and 52 with headers.
Even at 32, Mandžukić is Juventus’ second top goalscorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo this season, stepping up while the likes of Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi continue to stall in their search for another Scudetto.
But as his reputation suggests, it’s that other side of Mandžukić which sets him apart from other strikers across Europe, bringing a unique style to Juventus’ attack which other target men like Edin Džeko and Olivier Giroud just don’t have.
He might not go down in the history books as one of Juve’s greatest ever players, but the Croatian’s impact on modern football will be sorely missed when he eventually hangs up his boots, and his reputation as one of the most talented windup merchants is sure to stand the test of time.