As the 2015 season slowly came to a halt for Roma, Edin Dzeko’s sputtering "goal machine" barely crossed the finish line.
The total goal count for the year? A scanty sum of eight goals in 31 league appearances. Many wondered what had become of the deadly striker that lifted two clubs to league silverware and grabbed individual honors on a weekly basis. It was a Jekyll and Hyde anomaly nobody could explain. Calls for his departure were loud, and they were plentiful. His compatriot Miralem Pjanic left the club in favor of league rivals Juventus, and many wanted Dzeko to follow him out the exist door. The €15M move to Italy seemed to be a complete disaster for the Bosnian talisman. But he didn’t take the easy way out – it wasn’t his style.
As if he was directly responding to the personal criticisms, Dzeko swore redemption to the Roma faithful, and more importantly to himself. In honesty – those that followed him throughout his career knew very well he was capable of it.
Growing up in war-ravaged Sarajevo and slowly climbing the football ladder from his local side Željezničar, to Czech outfit Teplice, to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, and finally to Manchester City – it was always a matter of proving himself capable. Felix Magath, the man that brought Dzeko to Wolfsburg saw raw talent, but beyond that, a ferocious competitiveness that has driven the Bosnian for all of his life.
At every step he faced adversity and with the very next he answered it. He grew up in a city that claimed many records, legends, and many nicknames. Often called the "Jerusalem of Europe" it boasts the first neighborhood in Europe to house a synagogue, Roman Catholic church, Orthodox Church and mosque. It also hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately for Edin Džeko and his family, it is also the city that endured the longest siege in modern warfare.
The conditions didn’t dissuade him. Džeko joined the youth selection of FK Željezničar, his family’s local side. Between 2003 and 2005, he played primarily has a midfielder, with little success. Even back then, critics were merciless. Due to his height, they often called him kloc, or lamppost. He kept going, and with a little help from coach Jiří Plíšek found himself at Czech side FK Teplice for a mere sum of €25,000. When Plíšek left Željezničar in 2004 – he told Edin, "we’ll see each other again, soon". Džeko didn’t think much of it; but soon enough the offer came from the Czech outfit. The new coach at Željezničar was asked, "Do we need Džeko?"
"I certainly don’t. Sell him if you get any kind of offer".The critics hailed the move as a bargain for the club, but they were wrong in which direction.
At Teplice, he was asked to try something new – to play up top as a striker. Even though he rarely played at the position, he soon found he could excel at it. His time in the Czech First League caught the attention of the man that would soon introduce him to the world stage – Felix Magath. Signing for Bundesliga side Wolfsburg meant greater responsibility and seemingly the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders. Džeko answered the call. It also meant conditioning and training at levels he had never experienced before but he adapted. With the flow of goals in the Bundesliga came a call-up to the Bosnian national team, and the eventual rise of the team to its greatest heights since independence, and Edin Džeko was at the forefront of it all. With the collapse of the old regime within the Bosnian federation, the team struggled heavily at first. With the hiring of Miroslav "Ćiro" Blažević, Džeko was one of the main components of a rebuilding effort that eventually led to World Cup qualification under Safet Sušić.
In January of 2011 came the move to Premier League side Manchester City for a fee of €32 million. Some pundits were confused by the move and doubted the tall Bosnian could adapt to "the English game". Džeko struggled initially, and they felt vindicated, but quickly found his feet and cemented his place as someone who would contribute heavily to the club’s cause over the years. His 92-minute equalizer against QPR contributed to legend at the club – which went through a drought many feared could never be broken. He continued to contribute some of the most important goals in the modern history of the club, and led the team to the title in 2013-2014 when Sergio Aguero was sidelined down the stretch of the league campaign.
For his country – Džeko rose from the youth selections to captain the national senior side, scoring 49 goals in 84 appearances. With his latest two goals against Cyprus in World Cup 2018 qualifiers, he is now only four goals behind his childhood idol Andriy Shevchenko for the UEFA record 26 goals scored in World Cup qualifiers. On the ex-Yugoslav front, Džeko tops the list of goals scored in the Top 5 European leagues with 131, ahead the likes of Davor Šuker (129) and Savo Milošević (128).
The track record of redemption and the hunger for success has always been there for him. But even the most optimistic of his supporters thought progress would come incrementally. It only took him nine league matches to equal his Serie A goal total for the entire 2015 season, and not even half of the season to double it. At the moment, he can’t seem to miss, and what’s even more remarkable, is the sheer confidence he has exhibited in front of goal. The big man has led the capocannoniere race for a good portion of the season in Italy, and currently shares the number one position with Juve’s Gonzalo Higuain at 19. Scoring in his last five league matches in a row, he has helped Roma accrue 56 points, just enough to remind Juventus they aren’t going anywhere. Well, just yet.
Roma’s overall competition form has been terrific. With nine wins in their last ten matches, and 15 straight home victories, Džeko’s form has done much to excite the Giallorossi faithful. The club has now scored eight in their last two matches, first demolishing La Liga’s "best defense" Villarreal away 0:4 and taking care of business at home 4:1 against Torino. Džeko’s contribution has been monumental, with 50% of the goals scored in these two matches alone. On the season, between the league and Europa League, the striker has been responsible for 38% of the club’s goals, higher than anyone else on the team. The efficiency has been mindboggling, but is he on his way to his best season to date?
In all competitions, Džeko’s best season has been in the historic 2008-2009 season when he led Wolfsburg to its first ever Bundesliga title with 36 goals in 42 appearances. This was followed up the next season with 29 goals in 48 appearances. At Manchester City – he scored some important goals, including the famous equalizer against QPR, but his best season came in 2013-2014 when he netted 26 goals in 48 appearances which essentially delivered the title to the club. At the moment, he has a total count of 29 goals in 35 appearances. He’s scored in his last eight matches in a row and is scoring at a rate of a goal every 90 minutes across all competitions. With statistics like this to back up his red-hot form, and with at least 14 more matches to play on the season – Džeko could easily break his own record, even if he slowed down in production or hit a rough patch.
So what does all of this mean for Roma? Depending on whether Juventus keep their winning ways in place in the league, Roma could theoretically challenge on all three fronts – the cup, the league, and in Europe. With a Coppa Italia semi-final against bitter rivals Lazio, a relentless Juve in the league, and tough competition to come in the latter rounds of the Europa League, they will need all of the firepower they can muster. If Edin Džeko’s marksmanship in crunch time is any indicator, they may just weather a few storms, and maybe even fetch some treasure out of troubled waters.
For Edin Džeko – last season was just another reason to dig deeper and springboard to even greater heights. After all, it’s just part of his M.O., and part of yet another Sarajevo legend.