Marko Arnautovic has been written off and made a comeback more times than Rocky. Austrian football's long-time bad boy was discarded by Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan and was compared to Mario Balotelli upon his arrival in the Premier League, such was his reputation both on and off the field.
But they say that behind every great man there is a greater woman, in the case of Arnautovic there are two – his wife and daughter. His playboy lifestyle took a backseat in 2012, following marriage to his partner Sarah and the pair welcoming their first child, Emilia, in July of the same year. With a new focus for the footballing hedonist, Arnautovic has flourished. He scored 11 goals for Stoke City last season, and inspired Austria to European Championship qualification for the first time in eight years.
Arnautovic's talent has never been in doubt. After flourishing with FC Twente's youth side, he was handed his senior debut in the team aged 18. There was never any question over his wavering temperament either, being sent off at the Under-19 European Championships and then later into his Twente career under Steve McClaren, being accused of racially abusing an opponent – for which he was later cleared.
McClaren was the first to notice both the crazy streak in the teenage Arnautovic and the effect of his friendship with Balotelli – then applying his trade in Italy with Inter. "I know Mario was his best friend in Milan, which tells you the story," the former England boss told The Sunday Times in September 2013. Mourinho would later join the raft of coaches quickly falling out of love with the forward.
"A fantastic person with the attitude of a child," the two-time European champion has been quoted as saying. In tandem with Balotelli, Arnautovic was off the leash in Italy, going out five times week. His loan spell at the San Siro was ill-fated, with just one start coming in the final six months of his deal. Inter unsurprisingly backtracked on a permanent deal.
The petulant Arnautovic appeared destined to end up on the football scrapheap during his spell with Werder Bremen, where a controversial tenure included getting injured while playing with his dog and being suspended for speeding. His move to England in September 2013 came as his career hung by a thread.
Having previously signed Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez, Stoke boss Mark Hughes understands how to tame individuals with a chequered history. Arnatutovic has grown as a person and reached his potential as a player, with goals coming last term against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
In a star-studded Austria side looking to evoke memories of their third-place finish at the 1954 World Cup, Arnautovic is burdened with providing the creative and attacking spark. Cristian Fuchs is a figure of calm at left-back, allowing Arnautovic to roam in the central areas where he causes so much damage in the Premier League. In a favourable group that features an unspectacular Portugal, debutants Iceland and a Hungary side playing in their first major tournament for 30 years, there is ample opportunity for Austria to make their mark. Arnautovic will hope he can be the great player behind a successful team.