When he signed for Bayern Munich last summer in a €14 million move from Wolfsburg, Mario Mandzukic was brought in as backup for Mario Gomez. Croatia international Mandzukic had performed well at Euro 2012, scoring three goals in as many games. Still, he was not at the level of Gomez, who had scored 41 goals for Bayern the previous season, and 39 in 2010-11.
Fate intervened on August 5 when Gomez sustained an ankle injury that required surgery, leaving Mandzukic with the chance to prove himself. And prove himself he did. The ex-Wolfsburg man not only scored nine goals in the first half of the season, but provided a scrappy physicality in holding up the ball that Gomez does not. Mandzukic may lack the instincts and finishing ability of Gomez, but his ball-winning ability and movement are superior.
Gomez had a full winter training camp to convince Jupp Heynckes to reinstate him as Bayern's starting centre forward, but the trainer has instead chosen Mandzukic in five out of seven games since mid-January. The 26-year-old has responded astonishingly well, scoring in every game and already raising his tally to seven goals in the calendar year.
The prolific form Mandzukic has shown in 2013 suggests he's developed further since the winter break, although this can only be confirmed with prolonged form. Either way, 19 goals in all appearances for his club in 2012-13 is a very respectable figure, especially with three months left to play in the season.
On the other hand, it's easy for a cynic to doubt Mandzukic just as Mario Gomez has been doubted since his move to Munich. With the likes of Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller immediately behind him, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez to distribute and Philipp Lahm and David Alaba as attacking auxiliaries, is it really any surprise that the attacking focal point is so prolific?
There is merit to such critiques, especially given that Mandzukic's best season tally at Wolfsburg was 12 goals. Either way, the Croatian has already vastly exceeded Gomez's mark of 14 goals in his first season at Bayern. And who's to say that in the future, Mandzukic won't approach the 40-goal mark on a regular basis? If he does, hardly more could be asked, even if he does have a world-class support staff.
Looking around Europe, there are few strikers as prolific as Mandzukic and fewer with his skill set. Robin van Persie (23) and Radamel Falcao (23) score plenty of goals and are duly rewarded with headlines. Mandzukic is just behind them in terms of prolificacy and ahead in matters like hold-up play, but remains an outsider in the discussion of the world's best strikers. It's high time Mandzukic is given the credit he's earned.