Mario Mandzukic needs a home.
Official: #FCBayern have signed Robert Lewandowski (25)! The striker has signed a 5-year contract until 2019. More soon on FCB.de— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) January 4, 2014
The move, rumored to be in the works as far back as April, creates just as much commotion within Bayern’s crowded locker room as it does for the rest of the continent. Once the Polish international arrives this summer, ace Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic will have to make room for Lewandowski—one of only two men with more tallies in the 2013-14 domestic campaign.
To date, Mandzukic has played in all 16 of Bayern’s Bundesliga matches. In all but one of his 12 starts, he featured as the central striker—the same position as Lewandowski. Bayern manager Pep Guardiola currently maintains one of the most overcrowded midfields in Europe with Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller (listed as a forward), Toni Kroos, Mario Goetze, Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Xherdan Shaqiri and Thiago Alcantara all vying for precious playing time in support of Mandzukic.
Although Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on the Bayern's official website that the club have no plans to send Mandzukic out the door, it is hard to imagine either player accepting a striker platoon. Oddly enough, Rummenigge even went so far as to state that he wants to talk contract extension with the 27-year-old.
Despite Rummenigge's suggestion—and Manduzkic’s reported indifference to Lewandowski’s arrival—rumors have begun to swirl around where the Croatian will land next.
Will it be Manchester United? Or Juventus? Arsenal appear to be the club most seriously linked to Mandzukic. But there is another top European club not currently on the radar that presents an ideal opportunity for the Croatian to continue his rise in European football: AC Milan.
Here are six reasons why a marriage between Mario Mandzukic and the "Rossoneri" makes perfect sense.
Since joining Bayern for the 2012-13 season, he has netted 34 goals in 65 appearances across all competitions—second best on the squad to Mueller.
The Bavarians have hauled in five trophies since his arrival, and Mandzukic has scored some of Bayern’s biggest goals in recent memory. His first tally—six minutes into his first competitive match with the club—helped secure a 2-1 victory over Dortmund in the German Supercup. He also opened the scoring as Bayern achieved the same result against Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final.
Injuries have left the Gunners’ attacking options thin at the moment: Theo Walcott will miss the rest of the season and the World Cup with a torn ACL, Nicklas Bendtner is out a month with a bum ankle and Olivier Giroud has missed time with his own ankle injury and an illness.
That leaves manager Arsene Wenger with few places to turn as the New Year gets underway. So the links to Mandzukic, Diego Costa and others are understandable. But 20-year-old speedster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returned to training this week, and 18-year-old Serge Gnabry announced his arrival with an impressive performance against Tottenham in the FA Cup last week. Oh, and a certain German named Lukas Podolski is back and and hungry to prove himself at the Emirates after a lengthy injury layoff.
Wenger is a notoriously shrewd businessman when it comes to the transfer market: Mesut Ozil’s record £42.5 million transfer fee this September nearly tripled the club’s previous most expensive buy, and Mandzukic’s recent form suggests he won’t come cheap. (We can also expect a rise in his €3.5 million salary.)
More importantly, Wenger doesn’t appear to be in the mood for a long-term replacement at the moment, as reported in The Independent:
"Honestly, you want to keep your chances in the season at the best possible level. Is it for short term or a stopgap? Ideally, you want a longer solution, but a longer solution looks much more difficult to find in January than a short gap," the Arsenal manager said.
"You can find a solution somewhere - a club that has financial trouble and wants to get rid of a big contract for five or six months, but to find in January exactly the player who will be tomorrow's star on the longer term is much more difficult."
With Lewandowski’s arrival to Bayern delayed until the summer, it will likely take another record-breaking offer for Wenger to pry Mandzukic away from the Bavarians mid-season.
Serge Gnabry, 18, represents the next generation for the Gunners.
If Mandzukic can’t possibly represent a stopgap solution for the Gunners, then his acquisition would be a long-term commitment.
But in the aforementioned Giroud, Walcott, Podolski and Bendtner, Wenger has a proven group of attackers who have helped launch the Gunners to the top of the Premier League table. Pushing that quartet for playing time are Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gnabry and Yaya Sanogo. And if anyone knows how to cultivate young talent, it’s Wenger.
Though it is an attractive impulse move on paper given the current circumstances, Mandzukic is an investment Arsenal aren't in position to make.
When your own alum call this the worst season in recent memory, as former AC Milan midfielder Zvonimir Boban did in December, something has to give.
The "Rossoneri" currently sit 11th in Serie A, nine points out of European competition next season and eight points above relegation.
They just can’t seem to score, averaging 1.55 goals per match in league play. Only Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Shalke qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds with fewer goals in the group stage.
Milan’s current group of strikers—Mario Balotelli, Robinho, Kaka, Andrea Poli and Alessandro Matri—have combined for just 22 goals in all competitions this season, and Stephan El Shaarawy remains out another two months with a broken foot.
Enter Mandzukic, whose nose for finding the back of the net has been nothing short of prolific in the last 18 months. His ability to dictate play and hold the ball up top mirror that of a certain troublesome striker who may be on his way out of the fashion capital of the world.
Balotelli may be telling his own team off soon.
The transfer rumor mill must always be taken with a grain of salt, but the latest round of reports surrounding Balotelli’s supposed malcontent can’t be ignored.
Though he quickly quashed talk of a January move to Chelsea, the mere suggestion that Balotelli is unhappy could precipitate an offseason change—Balo is already on his third team since 2010.
If Balotelli indeed changes jerseys this month or later this summer, Milan will be left with a giant hole at the top of the formation. Robinho is approaching 30 while Kaka is already there, and neither can play center forward. Mandzukic would pair well with El Shaarawy on the left and January signee Keisuke Honda in behind as the No. 10.
Worse than standing pat would be for Milan to see Mandzukic join Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, further bolstering the potent "Bianconeri" attack.
It may not happen in January, but odds are that Mario Mandzukic will move on from Bayern Munich in the near future.
He has proven himself worthy of first-team football over the past few seasons, but with Robert Lewandowski coming to town, Mandzukic figures to take a backseat to the Polish striker.
Milan could see ace Mario Balotelli fly the coop soon, and Mandzukic would slide in as the No. 1 goal-scoring option for one of Italy’s most storied clubs. Take a look around the rest of the top-flight teams and they already possess top strikers. Milan presents a unique opportunity for Mandzu to continue his stellar form.