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- Aug 1, 2010
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Once a figure of fun in his native Bosnia, the unorthodox Dzeko is now much more than just a target-man
The visa has been applied for and Edin Dzeko is likely to complete the final details of his £35m move to Manchester City tomorrow. And to think that when Teplice offered Zeljeznicar €25,000 for him in 2005, the Bosnian club's hierarchy thought the sum so preposterous they broke out the champagne. "We thought we'd won the lottery," one director admitted.
Back then, Bosnian football didn't really understand Dzeko. He was lanky and clumsy and, frankly, looked "a bit English" as that same director put it. Even in Bosnia, where technical ability is prized more than anywhere else in Europe, players have a reputation for being skilful dribblers, and the local template of a player was Hasan Salihamidzic – short and deft who played with a Roadrunner whirl of legs.
By the standards of an English target-man, Dzeko has a fine first touch; in Bosnia, though, he was a figure of fun, and picked up the nickname "Kloc" – the local slang term for a lamp-post or the pole that holds up a street sign. Fortunately a visiting Czech coach liked what he saw, and recommended him to Teplice. Two successful years later, Dzeko was sold to Wolfsburg for a little over £4m. Having seen Jan Koller lead the line for the national team for years, the Czechs knew what to do with a target-man.
To refer to Dzeko as merely a target-man, though, seems reductive. He is a fine header of a ball, holds the play up well, but he also has surprising pace (although Sir Alex Ferguson apparently didn't pursue an interest because he thought him too slow off the mark) and, as a record of 58 goals and 31 assists over the past two and a half seasons suggests, he can finish and create. There is a thought he struggles to operate as a lone striker, but the way City seem likely to play, with Carlos Tevez to one side and either Adam Johnson or David Silva to the other, means he should have both support and a regular supply of crosses.
Dzeko may be unorthodox in playing style, but in other ways he is a typical child of Sarajevo. "I was six when the war started," he said. "It was terrible. My house was destroyed so we went to live with my grandparents. The whole family was there, maybe 15 people all staying in an apartment about 35metres square. It was very hard. We were stressed every day in case somebody we knew died."
Football seemed a world away. "A lot of footballers start to play kicking a ball around in the street but for me that was impossible," he said. "But when the war finished I was much stronger, mentally. After the war I played with my friends in the streets, at school, then my father took me to Zeljeznicar." Their stadium lay on the frontline and when the siege was finally lifted, the first thing players and officials had to do was to clear the pitch of mines.
There have been suggestions recently that he has become more distant – Bosnian journalists have complained that he has stopped returning their calls, although that may be a necessary side-effect of completing a big transfer – but he has a reputation for being hospitable and down to earth, as you'd probably expect for somebody who, until they were 20, was regarded as a bit of a joke.
I first met him shortly before Bosnia's World Cup qualifier against Turkey in 2009, when he was the major star of a team that threatened an implausible qualification for South Africa. We'd been chatting on the terrace of the team hotel for a few minutes when he was called away by the press officer. Given how most footballers will take any opportunity to avoid talking to journalists, I didn't really expect him to return, but about quarter of an hour later he came back. "Sorry about that," he said. "The prime minister turned up and I had to have my picture taken with him."
Now you could be cynical and say that it makes sense for a player who sees his future as being in the Premier League to try to raise his profile by talking to the English press, but a Sarajevo journalist tells the story of having gone to Germany a couple of years ago to do a piece on the two Bosnian players at Hoffenheim. On his way back he and his photographer made a snap decision to drive to Wolfsburg to see Dzeko. Not only did he agree to a lengthy interview late that evening, but having tried to book them into a hotel and discovered that a VW conference meant there were no beds to be had anywhere in the vicinity, he gave them the keys to his flat and went to stay with his girlfriend.
Dzeko will have to change his attitude to the media if he's to fit in at City, but he already speaks decent English and his game seems ideally suited to the Premier League. "Everybody says that England is the perfect league for me with my style," he said. Now is the time to prove it.
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