Edin Dzeko’s fourth full season at Manchester City had seen him become a divisive figure among the supporters. This is a striker who scored a goal of equal importance to Sergio Aguero’s in City’s history-defining victory over QPR. Seven months earlier the Bosnian had slotted one past David de Gea in the 93rd minute at Old Trafford to complete a quite ridiculous score-line and as the away contingent erupted into flailing limbs and utter disbelief he ran to them, splaying out a hand and raising an additional finger in conspiratorial mockery. Seven weeks prior to that unforgettable afternoon Dzeko dispatched a perfect hat-trick (right foot poke, redirected header then left-foot tap-in) past Spurs in the capital before grabbing a spectacular fourth. In 2013/14 he surpassed himself with 16 goals from 23 starts.
In his first three and a half years at the Etihad – until evidence of rot set in – Edin Dzeko wore several personas. For two sustained spells he was a ‘supersub’. On other occasions he was a fearsome frontman relied upon with that pathetic dependency that is only reserved for prolific forwards in form. Meanwhile, the multitude of videos released by the club as they ramped up their media presence showed him sometimes smiling and care-free, other times distant, almost aloof. Here was a multifarious figure who needed the right man-management and adoration from the crowd to thrive and mostly he got that. Mostly Dzeko was loved. Then he was not.
It is difficult to pin down a specific moment when things went awry but at some point after signing a new four year contract with the club the regard in which he was held by fans began to disassemble to the extent where it actually got quite toxic. In the pro camp, Blues admitted that this was a player before them who was a shadow of his former self, but let’s not forget that equaliser against QPR. He deserved backing through a lean period. Others, however, viewed the striker’s regression as a result of disinterest. Too often the ball would bounce off him, repelled by his apathy. His demeanour had become stroppy; his pressing of defenders visibly half-hearted. The debates that flared up on forums were hardly helped by an invasion of Bosnian fans who considered the striker to be beyond reproach.
When it became public knowledge that Roma’s interest in the 29 year old in the summer of 2015 was serious, all of the bickering died down and was replaced by gratitude. There was gratitude to Dzeko for playing such a pivotal role in the Blues’ astonishing rise to prominence and gratitude to Roma for taking him off the club’s books. An initial loan soon enough triggered an €11m permanent deal.
There was little surprise when the ‘Bosnian Diamond’ got off to a flier in Serie A when he scored a late decider against Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico. There was even less shock when Dzeko went on to miss such a rich variety of sitters throughout the 2015/16 season that Romans began to refer to him as ‘Edin Cieco’ (Blind Edin). That’s who he was and what he did; a study in frustration capable of pulling off both the brilliant and lumbersome inside a single minute and it was endearing to see that inconsistency persist in another country, in another shirt.
Granted, it was only endearing because it was now happening to someone else, but it would also be true to say that even when Dzeko was blowing hot, cold and occasionally warm at City, his unpredictability didn’t prompt the ire this behaviour traditionally brings. Why this was so is entirely subjective, though it certainly helped that he scored with such regularly that it always atoned for blasting over from six yards or controlling the ball like it was a magnet but so too was his foot. Then there was his smile: as trivial as it seems he really did have a nice smile.
Whatever the reasons for his popularity it meant no schadenfreude was derived from his initial struggles in Italy while vicarious pride was later taken from the manner in which he refused to succumb to the very real prospect of failure. A series of impressive performances in the pre-season friendlies ahead of Roma’s 2016/17 campaign encouraged former boss Luciano Spalletti to keep faith in his powerful forward and that faith was duly rewarded with a terrific return of 29 league goals as I giallorossi challenged Juventus every step of the way. Now there was surprise, but not a great deal as Blues had witnessed more than a hint of this in 2011/12 even if his nine assists last term was three times more than his best figure at City while his 39 goals across all competitions put his most prolific spell in Manchester well and truly in the shade.
A freak season then? Hardly. Dzeko has begun this season as he left the old one – fit, firing, and highly motivated, despite a change of manager and despite losing his creator-in-chief Salah to Merseyside. Earlier last month he was nominated for the Ballon D’Or. Two weeks later he was terrorising Chelsea in their own back yard ably assisted by another recent City departure who divided the Etihad faithful Aleksander Kolorov.
In other circumstances this would summon a collective regret at his leaving but with Manchester City breaking goal-scoring records for fun and the succession of routs being achieved through pinball possession that would flummox the now 31 year old that is not the case. Instead there is only a rare instance of a fan-base being over-joyed at seeing a former player excel once he’s moved on.
Mostly Edin Dzeko was loved by City fans. He is again now from afar.