So, he’s staying. Until the end of the season, anyway. The Marko Arnautovic saga has been rumbling on for longer than it takes to open a certain north London club’s stadium, but at least our particular soap opera finally appears to have come to a conclusion, with the striker announcing that he intends to stay at West Ham.
You might have seen a video appearing on the club’s Twitter feed confirming his decision, starring (but not necessarily written) by the man himself. In his video, he’s clearly at pains to tell us how happy he is to be at West Ham: ‘Hi West Ham fans… finally you hear me talking. I’m back… I’m happy to be back, and I’m happy for the decision that I’ve made. I’m very happy. I can’t wait to play again in front of you guys because I love to play at London Stadium, I love to play in front of you, I love to play with my teammates… so, listen to this club or what myself are saying, don’t listen to the other people who are not within the club.’
When I hear him speak, I’m full of questions, such as: Why do you have to talk like you’re some kind of Messiah? And thanks for coming back, but since you never went anywhere, why didn’t you say something? Why did you feel the need to tell us you’re happy three times? Why do you feel the need to say you love to do things connected with West Ham three times? With your last sentence, is what has been said by those outside the club not true? If that’s the case, why don’t you put us straight?
Anyway, whether you think that that particular script was very obviously written by a club staffer who is desperate for us to know how glad Arnautovic is staying at West Ham (I do), or you think it is genuine sentiment from the player himself (I don’t), I have found myself becoming really quite conflicted about events in recent weeks. Certainly, my initial reaction – like many others, if a look at the forums is anything to go by – was something along the lines of: ‘He’s in it for the money. How dare he entertain such an offer? Where’s his loyalty? Why is he messing things up for us?’
And there is a lot in that. Arnautovic’s agent, who as we know by now, happens to be his brother, has been doing the public talking, with nothing but a stony silence from Arnautovic himself up until the release of the video. This, combined with news of a £35m offer from an as-unnamed Chinese club merrily bandied around, at a time of relative harmony and good results at the club did make me think, ‘get out – good riddance – please don’t destabilise the club I love on the way out’.
However, the more I think about it, the more I question whether there isn’t at least a small case for the defence here. Let’s say you or I are at work, and one day you get a phone call offering you the same job at a rival for double, or even triple the money. Would you take it? Would you be tempted? I think we would be probably being a bit pig-headed if we didn’t say that we would at least be seriously looking at the offer. I know I would.
And let’s face it – we live in a world where it’s incredibly rare that footballers retain real loyalty. For every one club man like Mark Noble, you could name a hundred players like Marko Arnautovic. Is it really that unreasonable that he would want to go and earn more money doing what he loves, supporting his family in the process? No, my problem is not what his motivation was. I understand that football is driven by money – I really do get it.
My problem is more the way that he, and his ever-so-nice brother, went about it. It’s been a disgrace – and it all leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. He could have handled things a lot better, to say the very least. I can think of a few ideas. Perhaps he could have said something earlier. What was the point of his silence? All it did is agitate the fans.
Instead of letting all of us go into meltdown over the what-ifs, and the maybes, he could have been upfront and honest: ‘Yes, I enjoy playing for West Ham United, but I’ve had a better offer from elsewhere and I would like to earn more money so I can support my family.’
I mean, I would not have been pleased, but at the same time I would respect his honesty and his decision and he could have left with his head held high. He could have avoided his brother doing all the talking and painting a (let’s face it) not very pretty picture of the motivations of the Arnautovic family, simultaneously turning a large section of the fanbase against them.
And he could have treated the fans, many of whom idolise him, a damn sight better than he did. There’s no doubt in my mind that Arnautovic, on his day, is a good player. His record speaks for itself. But, he’s not a great player – if he was, the top teams in Europe would be after him.
He tends to have a habit of leaving clubs on bad terms. And if he had gone, we would have successfully replaced him, of that I am sure. Arnautovic is staying, however, and we should get behind him as he remains a Hammer. But, a bit like a relationship which has been strained just too far, I’m not sure I’ll view him in quite the same way again.
I suspect that he will be off in the summer, and our memories of him will always be tainted because of this whole episode. That’s a real shame, and Arnautovic only has himself to blame.