The biggest names in football, those that receive the most acclaim, are inevitably the ones with the priceless ability to put the ball in the back of the net with an unerring regularity. Of course, Ronaldo and Messi are blessed with incomparable skills that enthral, but the adulation they rightly receive for the entertainment provided is elevated to another level due to the copious amount of goals they plunder from such ability.
So much is true for many other players. The likes of Cavani, Griezmann, Neymar, Mbappé, Lewandowski and, of late, Salah prove such value to their clubs as they score the goals that win trophies. There is a place that should earmarked amongst such luminaries, however, for a player so often overlooked when lists are compiled over the top 20 goal scorers across Europe. A player who, across a career spanning a decade has provided goals on a regular basis for his employers, and indeed his national team in the most pressurised of occasions. Often regarded as merely the sort of workhorse striker that serves others, rather than score himself, his record still stands up to the closest of examinations. I talk of Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić, the oft disregarded purveyor of the most precious of commodities – goals.
Let me just posit as illustration of the above assertion, his current term with Juventus. Playing for a club that has secured a dominance in Serie A unrivalled in recent times, jealously treasuring a series of Scudetto titles, Juve secured the estimable services of Ronaldo for the new season. Here was player who values himself in terms of his goals. Balletic overhead kicks, penalties or tap-ins from a yard out are all currency to the Portuguese hitman and, to the end of January 2109, this rapacious appetite to score, something so often to the detriment of his fellow forwards has brought him 17 goals in 28 appearances. One would be convinced that such an egocentric greed for glory will surely have served to diminish the returns of others donned in the Bianconeri and employed in the services of Turin’s Vecchia Signora. For others, it may well have been true, but for Mario Mandžukić, it was very much not the case.
Whilst Ronaldo was scoring regularly, the Croat has enjoyed an exemplary goalscoring time himself, scoring nine times and virtually averaging that oft-quoted target of a goal in every other game. Given Mandžukić’s record over his career however, it’s something that would hardly surprise any fan astute enough to recognise the abilities of a master of his craft.
Mandžukić’s began his nascent career with NK Zagreb, where he would score 17 times in slightly more than a half-century of appearances. For a young player starting out on a professional career, it was an encouraging return, and one that persuaded the more celebrated club in the Croat capital, Dinamo Zagreb, to take Mandžukić – and his goals – to the Stadion Maksimir. He wouldn’t let them down. Across three years with the club, he’d accumulate 63 goals in 128 appearances, again virtually on that ‘one-in-two’ ratio. He’d also help the club to win a hat-trick of Prva HNL title in successive years and add the Croatian cup in two of them.
Ahead of the 2010-11 season, VfL Wolfsburg offered Dinamo €7 million for Mandžukić and he moved to the Bundesliga. Purely in terms of goals scored, 20 goals in 60 games looks like a failure, but when you take into account that, for the first of two seasons with the club, the manager, Steve McClaren often deployed the forward in a wide role, it takes on a different hue. Typical of Mandžukić though, he worked manfully as required by his manager and still managed an impressive number of strikes from that position. In the second term there, with Felix Magath replacing the Englishman and returning Mandžukić to a central striking role, the goals ratio was back up again, and Bayern Munich were impressed enough to lay out €13 million for the player.
Two seasons with the perennial German champions delivered both goals and trophies. Netting a mere two short of a half century of goals in 88 games was the sort of success rate to measure against all but the very top echelon of goal scorers and saw no less than eight trophies in two seasons. Two ‘Doubles’ of Bundesliga titles and DFB-Pokal cup success were added to the DFL-Supercup in 2012, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2013. Medals and goals were abundant in Munich.
A season with Atlético Madrid followed, and 20 goals in 43 games kept up the remarkably regular ration of goals to games as Mandžukić once more illustrated a proficiency and reliability as a purveyor of goals. Having prospered in Germany and Spain, Juventus would then confirm the increasing value of the player by paying €19 million to see if the Mandžukić penchant for goals was transferable to Serie A. Despite now being 29 years of age, the club clearly had confidence that it would be, and it was.