Wednesday, August 5, 2015

BOSNIAN BULLETS

When Edin Dzeko arrived at Manchester City for a fee of £27m from Wolfsburg in January 2011, nobody noticed that he wore the vacant expression of a man receiving first time instructions on how to tackle the Moscow underground.

That would only become relevant later, when he started missing sitters against Norwich, doing a good impersonation of the chap with the map upside down.

Neither did anybody notice that the Bosnian reminded them vaguely during these first passing moments of frivolity of a free-flowing floral dress on a breezy summer's day: it looks kind of interesting but the nagging thought remains that all that billowing up might just be hiding something underneath that we needed to know about before it was too late to turn back.

He had departed what had been an unexpectedly rapacious attacking duo at the German club with his reputation sky high. An exhilirating and unexpected Bundesliga title had arrived in Volkswagen Land in 2008-09. The essential YouTube compilations of his feats made him look like the healthy offspring from the marriage of the Cannonball Kid with Wyatt Earp. His partnership with the unheralded Brazilian Grafite had brought a cavalcade of goals, helping to establish the lanky Bosnian's credentials to perfom higher up the football food chain.

Manchester City, at the time of his arrival, might already have considered themselves a more wholesome proposition than Vfl Wolfsburg in some ways, but in reality were still something of a lumpen weight looking for a little momentum from somewhere. City were climbing the foodchain alright, but there were still some steps to go before they would break through the clouds.

That has now been accomplished with City's seasons since his arrival looking lke this: 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd.

As Dzeko departs, he has not only been an integral part of each and every one of City's recent glut of prizes, but he has also cemented his name in the annals of the club's history for being right in the limelight for some of the individual highlights too. He was not just a part of the party, he was frequently the focal point and occasionally the prime cause of it.

City's back catalogue of tall front men has some legs. Having graduated from the knock knees and

White Hart Lane
chopstick legs of Trevor Christie and the barren hulk that was Tony Cunningham in the 80s, the club took it upon itself to resurrect the career of a gangly Irishman, who had been moving like a new born giraffe on the fringe of the Arsenal first team. Niall Quinn would grow into one of the most prolific and trusted strikers of City's successful early 90s campaigns, when two consecutive fifth place finishes under Peter Reid represented a high water point before the trusted and timeworn dive back into troubled waters.

Even whilst negotiating those choppy seas, City entrusted the goal scoring to another striker whose limbs appeared to have been dropped off from an Ikea reject plant. Shaun Goater, with the movement and touch of a runaway step ladder, grew into one of City's greatest heroes in their darkest hours. Goater possessed a similar feathery grasp of the ball to Dzeko, employed knecaps, elbows and shins to divert the ball goalwards, but shared the Bosnian's ability to create havoc whenever there was a following wind. 

By the time Dzeko appeared on the scene at City, the club had spent the intervening period yo-yoing between the divisions, even hitting an unharmonious low point of third tier football for one desperate season in 1998. With £350,000 pat of butter impersonator Lee Bradbury up front it could hardly have been any other way. In those desperate, parched, end-of-century days at Maine Road even tall people had begun to look small.

The £27 million City shipped out across the North Sea represented the club's second highest transfer fee ever at the time, just 5 million or so down on the Robinho purchase the previous summer. Roberto Mancini's exuberant spending spree had made Dzeko the sixth most expensive Premier League recruit ever and for that sort of money, hopes were high that the Bosnian could boost City's chances of tangible success.

To underline what would become an ability to play meaningful parts in each mini chapter of City's success story, Dzeko's first goal in sky blue came at Notts County in the FA Cup in a game that City were struggling badly to deal with in the proper manner. City survived by the skin of their teeth thanks to his equaliser and thrashed County in the Etihad replay with Dzeko again scoring. He would not play in the final that May, but he had played his part in getting City's to their crucial first trophy win since 1976.

Before his first half season with the Blues was done, he had notched two more crucial goals. First the winner at Wigan and then, on the final day of the season, one of the goals at Bolton that helped City clinch a 3rd place finsh and a first-ever qualification for the Champions League. For an initial impact, the Bosnian's work had been pretty enlightening.

Tackled
What came next would cement his reputation in the Premier League, however. Dzeko began 2011-12 with a bang, hitting a superb goal to put City ahead in the Community Shield against Manchester United, a game eventually lost 3-2. Within weeks he had carved his name into Premier League folklore with four goals in a sun-drenched romp for City at White Hart Lane. That day, he revealed a knack for powerful heading, right foot placement and finished the show with a left foot curler from distance that flew into the top corner. Edin Dzeko and Manchester City had truly arrived in the upper echeleons of the English league. The panache and elegance of his performance at Tottenham would be a far cry from the stumbling, disinterested displays that littered his later appearances in sky blue and would perhaps act as a rod to beat him with when he fell below this astonishing level of performance. He had laid an early marker of the highest calibre.

He continued to play his role of Johnny on the Spot with a canny ease, scoring a vital goal at Wigan as City began to overhaul United in an incredibly tense title run-in. In the final denouement against a relegation-threatened Queen's Park Rangers, when the Blues famously considered enacting the most City-esque belly-flop of all time, his header on 90 minutes brought that last surge of momentum towards the Aguero seconds no football watcher in modern times will ever forget. If it had stopped there, the Bosnian's contribution would have had his name up in lights on City's hall of fame: a solid but not-always-reliable, sometimes spectacular sometimes misdirected input that had helped drag English football's most unwilling winners over the golden finishing line.

But Dzeko wasn't finished. In a less successful second full season his tally of 15 goals was part of an effort that brought City to Wembley again, a second FA Cup Final in two years, this time lost to Wigan. Despite the bitter disppointment of the culmination of Mancini's eye-watering tenure in Manchester, Dzeko had still managed to notch an iconic goal for City in their first ever appearance in the Bernabeu and get on the end of a stunning sweeping counter attacking goal at West Brom in the league, a strike that mirrored another breath-taking break out at Arsenal in the League Cup, when Dzeko revealed himself to be more than a gangly goal scorer, picking up a clearance and hauling the side forward to notch a late clincher through Sergio Aguero in a break that had also invloved the twinkling feet of Adam Johnson.

Dzeko was once again pivotal in City's much more successful campaign in 2013-14, scoring regularly in Manuel Pellegrini's blitzkrieg debut season. The Chilean had recruited Spaniard Alvaro Negredo and a flood of goals burst upon an unsuspecting public. The Bosnian was perhaps also taken unawares of Negredo's raw power and suddenly found himself falling down the pecking order for places. Being taken unawares had in the meantime begun to be one of Dzeko's specialities.

Despite the Moscow metro look never really having completely left him, Dzeko's less impressive displays (and there were an increasing number of these by now) were always likely to be balanced by sudden bursts of unerring savvy and fast-whirring brain cells. You just never knew when it might break out next.

Dzeko would keep his powder dry until later in the season, as Negredo's goals spectacularly and suddenly dried up. In stepped the Bosnian - having already passed the 50 goal mark - to hit the fastest ever away goal at Old Trafford in Premier League history (32 seconds) as City began to rise again. As City closed in on Liverpool, Dzeko netted at Palace, two vital goals at Everton and another two at home to Villa as City hauled in Liverpool metre by painful metre to win their second title in three seasons. Once again the wily Dzeko had been thrust into the limelight at the most appropriate moments of another tear stained success for the club and had come up trumps.

By now many observeers had descended on the Bosnian's ability to look disinterested, caught gazing at his feet or loping back slowly from another misshit attempt on goal. For every goal, his detractors told us, there were untold games where he disappeared, if such a tall man could manage such a feat, and was basically a clumsy, error-strewn passenger. To the rest of us, he had the uncanny knack of netting from all angles when it mattered most.

In many ways, Dzeko was damned by the company he was forced to keep. Those threaded passes

Connection
from David Silva and the rocket heels of Sergio Aguero began to make him look like a second class citizen, slow to pick up the pass and slower still to finish it off. Anybody could look a little one-paced and brain dead alongside that gilded pair, but Dzeko was unlucky to find the club he had aided so strongly on the way to greatness actually beginning to outgrow him.

There will be those that voice the opinion that, as time went by, he began to look uneasy, lazy some said, lolloping around like a grazing giraffe on the Serengeti. Others will force us to remember the howling misses and the dreadful lack of control that seemed to afflict him like an apprentice violinist with delirium tremens. It was often very off tune, they will tell you, the desperate scraping and whining.

Dzeko may well have left a bigger legacy, been even more productive, even more deadly in front of goal, but that was not his style. He had a languid, easy movement that carried him hither and thither at his own special pace. When resting he looked like he had been closed down. The facile expression, at once blank, vague and empty, offered few clues as to how emotionally involved he was becoming as the tears and shivers gripped the rest of us on the sidelines. Even some of his spells down on the turf injured seemed to last longer than other players, but there can be no doubt that Edin Dzeko deserves the heartfelt thanks of the City support for the critical part he played in the club's most invigorating period of success for nearly half a century
.

***
 
Extract from a piece I wrote for Champions Magazine on Dzeko, August 2014:
 
When Edin Dzeko's wonderfully cushioned back heel lay-off fell perfectly into the path of David Silva's left foot in the 44th minute of Manchester City's opening Premier League game of the season at St James Park, Newcastle, many onlookers were moved to comment that the beanpole Bosnian striker must have been taking secret lessons in deft touches and body movement whilst out in Brazil for last summer's World Cup.
A long, looping through-ball from Ivorian midfielder Yaya Touré had descended from the heavens towards Dzeko, who was closely marked by Fabio Coloccini and Mike Williamson. Seconds later the two defenders were left staring into space, as the ball dropped in from above and immediately departed again off Dzeko's heel, in one deftly-volleyed manouevre. Silva, taking it in his stride, took one extra touch to prod it a little way in front of himself and finished with aplomb beneath the onrushing goalkeeper Tim Krul with his second touch. The ball had been propelled from deep midfield to deep in Newcastle's net in four rapid touches.
And in one split second Edin Dzeko had demonstrated the folly of underestimating his talents.

Having a good touch for a big man  is one of those football phrases that commentators have uttered into folklore in the English game. From Niall Quinn through to Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole, the Premier League's existence has been dotted with strikers with the physical attributes (and occasionally sprightliness of mind) of a telegraph pole....
English football and its sometimes rather rudimentary tactics have provided a safe haven for what purists might call the dinosaur, the huge brick-reinforced number nine, who will rough up the opposition defence and - with some luck -barge his way to a small portion of your team's required goals.
Modern systems in the game require much greater subtelty, however, and Edin Dzeko is amongst the foremost examples of the mobile, capable, yet powerful central striker that these days prowl the eighteen yard boxes. Size can remain a hindrance, however, and some experts and casual onlookers alike remain non-plussed by the Bosnian's attributes. Even amongst the Manchester City faithful, there remains a large (mainly) silent minority, who find it difficult to acknowledge Dzeko's worth in City's stellar squad.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini is obviously one person leading the "yes" vote, as Dzeko became the fifth major star of the summer - after David Silva, Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero and skipper Vincent Kompany - to put his signature to a contract extension. In amongst the big summer imports to the top of the Premier League, these contract extensions for players who make up City's redoubtable spine could turn out to be just as important in the long run.
It takes only a cursory glance at the Bosnian's scoring record to see why Manuel Pellegrini was so keen to lock him into a new contract. He scores regularly and is just as likely to curl in a devestating left footer from 20 metres as he is to nod in at close quarters from a corner or free kick. His size and movement make him extremely difficult to mark and his ability to drop into midfield and link play with City's revolving midfield personnel is a noticeably efficient part of what makes the sky blues so difficult to pin down. What stands out even more, however, beyond the consistent scoring rate, the broad variety of finishes and the evident team ethic of the player, is his knack of scoring on the big stage, when goals are critical

 

3 comments:

  1. Bradbury was £3.5m, you missed a zero!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I missed more than a zero, Tom. What memories he conjures during the dark of the night...

      Delete
  2. I'll miss him. Thanks for the memories Edin.

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