Marko Arnautovic used to be dubbed a ‘poor man’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ but is now drawing favourable comparisons with the Swedish superstar.
West Ham manager David Moyes has transformed the previously inconsistent Austrian winger into his side’s talisman by playing him as an out-and-out striker.
The 28-year-old has scored nine goals since December to guide the Hammers to the verge of Premier League safety.
They are six points clear of the relegation zone and face Stoke on Monday night in a game which could see Arnautovic shove his old club a step closer to the Championship.
Yet Moyes admits he had his doubts about Arnautovic’s attitude when he took over from Slaven Bilic in November.
“I was concerned, because I’d seen him play for Stoke sometimes and I didn’t think he did all the running back defensively,” said Moyes.
“I was saying ‘I’m coming to a team in the bottom three and if I’m not going to get all the players running, we’re going to be in difficulty’.
“That’s why we had to find something which meant that maybe he wasn’t quite as exposed to having to double up, help the full-back out.
“We had to find a way of getting Marko into a different system. And we played around with it, it wasn’t rocket science.
“We didn’t go out there with it really planned. He was the one that showed us, and going to centre-forward freed him up a little bit. I got him to run and close things down, and show that he really had that capability.
“He’s someone who needs the confidence, but I think he also needs the understanding of how you get to the levels you’ve got to.
“Don’t go back to walking around, don’t go back to looking as if you’re not interested. We need you fully interested.
“He is a little bit of a Zlatan inasmuch as the players look to him. He’s got a leadership role which he needs to develop as well, for the club and for the team.
“He’s getting to an age now where he’s going to influence players, and he’s going to have to influence players around him, so he needs to be doing it by his leadership and performance. His performances have done it in many ways.”
Moyes could welcome back James Collins, Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll from injury against Stoke.