Croatian international Mario Mandzukic has become a firm favourite at the Allianz Arena
Croatian international Mario Mandzukic has become a firm favourite at the Allianz Arena

Mandzukic fighting his corner at Bayern

Munich - When news broke of Robert Lewandowski's summer move to FC Bayern München on the evening of 4 January 2014, the rumour-mongers went into overdrive.


Inevitably, the man at the centre of speculation was FCB striker Mario Mandzukic.

The Croatian No9 surpassed all expectations following his July 2012 move from VfL Wolfsburg, ending the club's ensuing, historic campaign as top scorer on 15 league goals. Testament to his blossoming natural talent, he took his rich vein of form into the new season, holding down a regular starting berth in a team now shepherded by former FC Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola.

At the halfway point of 2013/14, Bayern went into the winter break boasting a seven-point lead on nearest challengers Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Unsurprisingly, Mandzukic was the Bavarians' leading marksman with ten goals from 16 league games. Only Hertha Berlin's Adrian Ramos (11) and Borussia Dortmund's Lewandowski (11) had found the net more often at the same juncture.

Bayern's wish list

Mandzu's strike rate notwithstanding, Bayern had made no secret of their desire to bring BVB's Polish goal machine to the Allianz Arena, with even former tactician Jupp Heynckes hinting at a possible move in his post-match interview to last season's UEFA Champions League triumph at Wembley. When that didn't happen, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before the 25-year-old joined former Dortmund team-mate Mario Götze in the Bavarian capital.

Adding Lewandowski, a player at the peak of his powers, on a five-year contract undeniably represents another shrewd piece of business for the 23-time Bundesliga champions Bayern, but what exactly does the signing mean for Bayern's current shooting star, Mandzukic? The 27-year-old was left out of Guardiola's squad for the first game of the Rückrunde against Borussia Mönchengladbach back in January, adding fuel to the flames that he was living on borrowed time. FCB sporting director Matthias Sammer, however, simply put the striker's omission down to "not training hard enough".

Rummenigge defiant

Mandzukic was only handed a bit-part role in his side's subsequent win over VfB Stuttgart, but the slap-on-the-wrist treatment certainly appears to have had the necessary effect on the Slavonski Brod native, who now sits proudly atop the Bundesliga scorers' charts on 17 goals, one clear of incoming team-mate Lewandowski following Matchday 27's title-clincher against Hertha Berlin in the capital.

Quite rightly, Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge says the club have "absolutely no intention" of offloading the 2013 Croatian Footballer of the Year, but that's not to say keeping one of the game's few natural all-round frontmen content is going to easy. By trade, strikers are an unforgiving and even selfish breed - happy when they're playing, ecstatic when they're scoring, yet surly when not. Messrs Mandzukic and Lewandowski push all the aforementioned buttons and much more besides. It's just a shame that in today's game, when it comes to thoroughbred centre-forwards, two's a crowd.

Christopher Mayer-Lodge