Good, but not quite elite: The story of Edin Džeko – Part 2

When Željezničar sold Edin Džeko, one of their owners called the €25,000 fee a lottery. Twelve years and hundreds of goals later, the Bosnian forward has carved himself a remarkable niche in world football, and turns out, he isn’t done yet. The first part of his story is here.

After four uneventful years in his two teams where he could not quite make a name for himself, Edin Dzeko left behind his war-torn homeland to go to his new club, a club that would make him – Wolfsburg and Germany beckoned.

It was a slow start in Germany for the striker, but his determination and perseverance made sure that Dzeko helped Wolfsburg to reach the pinnacle of German football. With Grafite partnering him upfront and Misimovic pulling the strings in midfield, these three formed a “Magic Triangle” and led VfL Wolfsburg to prosperity. Dzeko was not done yet – although Grafite’s goal scoring prowess faded the next season, Dzeko himself bagged 22 goals and was the top scorer in the league.

On the international stage, Dzeko was dubbed as the Bosanski Dijamant (The Bosnian Diamond) during a game vs Belgium in 2009, and that nickname stuck.

At Wolfsburg was the first time that Dzeko felt truly at peace. In his home country, it was a struggle to impress bosses who did not want to be impressed, for they had already decided that this player was no good. Opportunities were limited, so when one did come knocking, Dzeko knew to answer the door. It was tough for him to leave his homeland, but the player knew that his career would go nowhere if he stayed in Bosnia. As such, it took a tremendous effort to leave everything behind and prove everyone wrong in another country, but Dzeko freed himself of the shackles that had been placed on him by people back home, and shone. Scoring goals just came naturally to him.

He was now finding the back of the net at an impressive rate in one of the world’s best leagues, but the impossible with Wolfsburg had already been achieved. Dzeko was now 25, and he knew that he needed a new challenge for himself, a new team where he could weave magic all over again. Another opportunity came knocking.

A champion; but not really

It was on to the newly revamped Manchester City. Dzeko’s transfer cost City £27 million, which made him the most expensive outgoing transfer from the Bundesliga at the time, as well as the most expensive signing of any player from ex-Yugoslavia at that time. Due to these reasons and the fact that his time at Wolfsburg had been such a success, the pressure on Dzeko this time around was palpable.

The story of Edin Dzeko in England was, however, not the same as it was in Germany. He became the first City player to score four goals in a Premier League game and holds the record for the fastest away league goal at Old Trafford, but it was more of an impact substitute role for the striker at his new club. Dzeko got his share of spotlit radiance, but it was Sergio Aguero who was the main man. Aguero and Dzeko were no Grafite and Dzeko; this can be best summarized in the game against Queens Park Rangers, wherein Aguero scored that goal to give City the title, but it is never discussed how that would have been impossible if Dzeko had not scored the equaliser just moments before.

Grafite and Dzeko were a duo as in tune as Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in Liverpool’s 2013-14 season; they elevated each other’s game and their link up play was almost telepathic. There was that undeniable chemistry that made the duo so lethal. With Aguero and Dzeko however, there existed a massive difference in stature and reputation, and as such two of City’s biggest signings could never gel well on the field. Aguero always started more and scored more, and Dzeko had to be the second fiddle for a long time.

Two seasons on, it was Dzeko who was perhaps more influential than his teammate in Manchester City’s 2013-14 league title win as he scored 26 goals for the season, but even that is remembered more for Yaya Toure’s heroics and Steven Gerrard’s unfortunate slip.

Edin Dzeko was by no means a flop in England, but his contributions were always  overshadowed by the heroics of Aguero or the talks about how much money Manchester City had. It was not that he was not good enough – it was just that he was not the star. Somehow, he could never quite convince Roberto Mancini or Manuel Pellegrini that he should be a consistent starter, and Sergio Aguero’s mind-numbing consistency had a lot to with it. There were certain expectations placed on Dzeko’s shoulders due to his time at Wolfsburg, expectations that he could not quite live up to. The Bosnian himself has rejected the label of a “super-sub” during his spell at City, but fact remains that he never started for the team as much as he would have hoped to. Regardless of this limited playing time, he netted over 70 goals for the Citizens which involved some clutch ones. When called upon, Dzeko was always there – he played for the club, not for himself.

At VfL Wolsfburg, Edin Dzeko made a massive name for himself, achieving the impossible with them in 2009.
At VfL Wolsfburg, Edin Dzeko made a massive name for himself, achieving the impossible with them in 2009.

But after a few seasons at the Etihad, everyone realized that it was time to move on. There was always the lingering sense that this was not what Bosnia’s greatest goalscorer was meant for, as merely a second choice or a rotation option. No, Dzeko’s career could not end like this. The former Bundesliga winner could not possibly be happy just racking up medals without being involved in the process at every stage. He had left Wolfsburg for a new challenge, and it was now similarly time to say goodbye to Manchester City as he yearned to ply his trade elsewhere.

The Bosnian Diamond shines again

Germany, England and now Italy – Edin Dzeko was moving on again, and this time it was AS Roma who welcomed the striker . However, not very much unlike his first season in Germany, Dzeko’s first season in Italy was disappointing.

“Has he lost his mojo?”
“This is not the same guy who won Wolfsburg the league.”

Like moths to a flame, criticism followed Edin Dzeko wherever he went. The Italian media announced that he was the flop of the season, burying him with a new nickname – “Edin Cieco” – Blind Eden. Dzeko must probably have gotten tired of hearing these names, for after everything that he had done in his career, people still called him out after a few bad games. It would seem that he had finally had enough.

The next season, Dzeko scored 29 goals in the league, outdoing the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi among others to win the Golden Boot in Italy. He broke the record held by a certain Francesco Totti when he scored 39 goals in a single campaign for AS Roma. No one called him Edin Cieco anymore, they just chanted his name as it was – Edin Dzeko, the man who had conquered Italy. The Giallorossi are fanatical in their support, and this time around, they were lapping up the foreigner who had made Rome his dominion.

Dzeko is the only player to have 50 or more league goals in England, Germany and Italy – three of the world’s top leagues. He has won titles in two of these leagues, and yet he is lambasted too often. He is either too slow one day, or he is too lazy the other. It is an almost impossible task that he faces – that to please his critics each and every time he steps on the pitch. What more can the man possibly do at this stage?

It was indeed an immense comeback by AS Roma against Barcelona, and it has been a brilliant comeback for Edin Dzeko’s career at the top level. He had scored only three Champions League goals in four years with City. In the Premier League, he never scored against Chelsea. But when Dzeko visited Stamford Bridge with Roma in the group stages this season, he scored one of the goals of the season as he volleyed past Thibaut Courtois and then added another for good measure. He scored the winning goal against Shakhtar Donetsk in the round of 16, and he scored two goals over two legs and earned a penalty against FC Barcelona. Most recently, he found the back of the net twice against Liverpool over two legs and took his tally to eight Champions League goals in a season. He only keeps getting better.

Perhaps Rome suits him. It is a city that loves its football, and more than anything else, Edin Dzeko is a man who loves his football. A perfect match for the player and the team, both often counted out and touted to be second rate, and yet both fighting till everyone takes due notice. It was a heroic effort that Roma had put in this Champions League season, and it would not be farfetched to say that the big boys will be wary next season. Similarly, Dzeko is a player that defences should now be terrified of – you give him one chance inside the box, and your next action will be to pick the ball from the back of the net.

In an interview with the Guardian, Dzeko said that he does not care about criticism, for every time he steps on the pitch, he gives it a 110%. Criticism for Edin Dzeko goes in one ear and out the other. He does not care. He has now played in his first Champions League semi-final, and is his country’s top goalscorer by a mammoth 30 goal margin. And yet, it would be unwise to think that he is done.

There are the all time greats like Mane Garrincha and Ronaldinho, players who played for their love of the game and dazzled millions while doing so. Of course, Dzeko is not of the same quality or popularity, but there is a lesson to be learnt here – he does not play to prove his doubters wrong, A goal scored is not a message to the critics, it is for self satisfaction. A reminder to the man himself that he is brilliant at what he loves the most.

For Dzeko, the league does not matter, the stage does not matter – what matters is the resolve he has. A goal out of absolutely nowhere in a stadium as intimidating as Anfield on a European night describes the player better than words possibly can. My team is 5-0 down? The tie is all but done for? Not on my watch, says the Bosnian. He calmly controls the ball, and hits it past Loris Karius as the Kop goes silent. He proceeds to collect the ball from the back of the net as he runs towards the centre of the pitch, shouting for the play to restart again. He scores again in Rome as he equalises for his club, and there is possibly no one more disappointed than him when the final whistle blows and Roma are just short.

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird which cyclically regenerates, or is otherwise born again. Edin Dzeko is just that. From the ashes of his failure in Bosnia, from his time at Manchester City in a role he did not wish for, Dzeko fell often but he never stopped rising; and at Roma, he is the king.

What happens next? The story of Edin Dzeko is fascinating, and the only way to find out is to keep watching as the tall centre forward uses his “slow, lazy” approach to light up Italy and Europe yet again – and if the story so far has taught us anything, it is to stop undermining exactly what the man from Bosnia is capable of.

Taha Memon

20 year old who likes everything black and white - especially football. Liverpool fan, aspiring journalist, comic enthusiast, and a TV show buff.