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Forever Underrated: Edin Dzeko has turned it around in Rome

Alex Blinston writes about Edin Dzeko, a man who has made a career of proving his plaudits right and his doubters wrong.

Just this past week I was holidaying in the Eternal City, my first time in the breath-taking Italian capital. Because of flights we had to leave on the Saturday night, just as the whistle was blown at the Olimpico to kick off Roma vs Empoli: it pained me. And it pained me even greater when I learned that Edin Dzeko had scored a brace in the 2-0 win. The Bosnian is a man who I have always held a soft spot for and as the weeks go on, he is endearing himself to the Giallorossi faithful more and more.

Upon his arrival in Italy, a leading no.9 was seen as the missing piece to the jigsaw in Rudi Garcia’s Roma side, the piece that would bridge the gap between them and Juve. While Dzeko is no Francesco Totti of the mid 2000’s or Gabriel Batistuta from the Scudetto winning season, many thought the former Manchester City man could elevate Roma to being serious contenders for the Old Lady’s perch.

By this time last year Dzeko had already found the label of a big money flop; it wasn’t without good reason. The €11m man had accrued just eight Serie A goals and just ten in all competitions. Much like Roma under Rudi Garcia last term, Dzeko had been a gargantuan disappointment. While the team’s upswing in form coincided with Luciano Spalletti’s return, Dzeko didn’t bolster his goal tally and it was remembered as a season of howlers, clumsy link-up play and a paltry goal return.

Well, how a year can change things in football. The 31-year-old broke Totti’s record of goals in a season for Roma with his brace this past weekend, taking his tally to 33 goals for the season (in all competitions) and is tied with Andrea Belotti in the charge for the Capocannoniere. While Roma may not have transformed themselves from Scudetto dreamers to challengers this term, Edin Dzeko has certainly revamped his image in Italy.

Now Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, Dzeko is a player who I have always followed, dating back to his days in Germany with Wolfsburg. The Wolfsburg team that, against all odds, won the Bundesliga was a stunning side but that Grafite-Dzeko strike partnership was what made Felix Magath’s side tick. A staggering 85 goals in 142 games for the Volkswagen club meant Manchester City came calling back in 2011; how time flies.

I am no Manchester City fan, in fact as an Arsenal fan I would have quite liked to see their big money signing flatter to deceive in sky blue, but throughout his time at the Etihad I had a constant feeling that there was talent being undervalued, and severely underexploited. By the time Dzeko left England last summer he had racked up half a century of Premier League goals, two league medals and an FA Cup win to boot. His minutes per goal (142) ranks in the top ten in the Premier League of all time, with the Bosnian only being rewarded with 74 starts in his time with City. Finding a way to pip Sergio Aguero to the starting spot is a near impossible task for any player but even with the Argentine in the ranks, there was still the lingering feeling that Dzeko was simply not used to his full potential.

When the lights shined brightest Dzeko has delivered throughout his career. The famous ‘AGUEROOOOOO’ goal will forever be remembered as City delivered their first Premier League title, yet it was Dzeko’s 92nd minute header that made one of football’s greatest moments possible. In the final four games of City’s 2013/14 league winning season, the Bosnian registered five goals and it was a similar story at Wolfsburg as half of Dzeko’s 26 goals in the Bundesliga winning season came in the last nine games, as Wolfsburg remained at the top of the tree.

There may be many memorable howlers, the type that make you cringe – the one against Palermo last season, as well as the missed penalty at Udinese spring to mind – something highlighted by Spalletti back in November: “He has everything to do well, but sometimes he doesn’t show his talent.” Certainly, there are points where the mind boggles at how Dzeko misses the opportunities he does, however, the goal scoring pedigree the Bosnian boasts is undoubted.

Even before breaking the record Dzeko said (prior to the 4-2 defeat to Lyon in March), “I’m 30, nearly 31, and I admit that this is maybe my best season ever, I do not feel 30 years old. I’m fit and I am ready, but it’s no accident – I work a lot, before and after training.” Topping the title winning season at Wolfsburg was always going to be a challenge, yet Dzeko is well on track to registering his biggest goal haul and is doing it in some style.

The Bosnian isn’t, and never will be, the most technically gifted player. Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, a City fan never short of an opinion, was quoted as saying, “he’s rubbish at football, but great at goalscoring.” It could be put more eloquently but it has an element of truth. Dzeko is a pure no.9 – 32 of his 35 last league goals have come inside the area (per Squawka) – but he is a master of his trade. While Roma’s season will end with them being nearly men to the Old Lady once again, Edin Dzeko has been the bright spark, blossoming under the tutelage of Spalletti.

Jiří Plíšek, former coach at Željezničar where Dzeko’s career began, said, “I met him for the first time in 2003, when I started to coach Željezničar; he was 17 and amazingly no one saw him as any kind of talent. But I saw his gift.” That’s been the story of Edin Dzeko’s career; only few truly appreciate the brilliance of the Bosnian, a man who has made a career of proving his plaudits right and his doubters wrong.

Alex Blinston
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