This column starts with a confession. I didn’t used to rate Edin Dzeko. I found him infuriating, a player too often profligate in front of goal who struggled to show his best consistently. Occasionally disinterested and perhaps even lazy, City, I felt, could do much better given the resources the club has available.
I wrote this during Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge, calling for him to be sold. Predicting football is notoriously difficult – it’s the uncertainty of the game which makes it so enthralling and keeps us all thoroughly entertained – but rarely has one of my pieces caused me so much distress since writing it. I wasn’t alone in my thinking at the time and the article was met with approval from most, but Dzeko has fully rammed it down my throat since it was published and leaves the club this week to join Roma having proven time and again he was a player for the big occasion. Very few can claim to have contributed as significantly to City’s recent success than the Bosnian and for that he deserves the respect of the City fans.
There’s no doubt he was a limited player, but given the importance of his goals, his deficiencies can be overlooked, particularly now as he leaves England to begin a new chapter in his career. It would be unfair if he wasn’t given the respect he fully deserves for the role he has played in recent years.
His 80th-minute equaliser against Notts County in the 2011 FA Cup saw City secure a replay in a game that had looked like being a disaster. They went on to win the competition, their first major piece of silverware in 35 years and the catalyst for the two league title that followed, and Dzeko’s fourth-round goal as a vital moment. That was our first taste of his ability to produce right when needed most, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
A few months later, he scored the winner with 15 minutes left in a game away at Blackburn and effectively secured Champions League qualification for the first time in City’s history – a huge milestone for the club in their post-takeover guise. A year later, in perhaps his most dramatic contribution, he scored the equaliser on the final day of the season against QPR as City won their first title in 44 years. It was becoming increasingly clear he thrived under pressure and could produce when City needed him.
“If you look at Edin’s career for Manchester City, the goals he has scored, he has got a lot of heavy goals, goals that are very important,” said former City coach David Platt after the strikers double away at West Brom in October 2012 earned City three vital points in a game that was slipping away from them. Platt’s assessment was correct. Dzeko was struggling to hold down a consistent starting place, but his importance to the club was continually being underlined with hugely important goals.
Perhaps his finest period, though, came at the end of the 2013/14 season as City overhauled Liverpool in the final furlong to win their second league title in three seasons. He scored five in the final four games. As others went missing, either due to injury or poor form, Dzeko, once again, was the man for the big occasion.
The key day in the title race came in late April. Chelsea had been to Anfield earlier in the day and won convincingly, leaving City in control of their own destiny. Win all their games and no one could stop them being crowned champions. The first hurdle came in the shape of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. With news filtering through of Liverpool’s defeat, the away end was in fine voice, but as kick off neared, the nerves and tension were evident.
But after four minutes, Dzeko had scored with an excellent header. Nerves turned to excitement, the away fans were in full voice, and City soon scored again through Yaya Toure. They won the match 2-0 and the momentum had well and truly shifted. City were in the driving seat.
Next up, though, was Everton, a side City had struggled to beat at Goodison Park in previous seasons. With two home matches to follow, many felt it was a simple equation: get three points there, and nothing could stop City going on and winning the league.
City fell behind early on, but Aguero’s goal from seemingly nothing brought them back into the game, before Dzeko scored two, including one remarkable header, to put City in command. Everton scored late on through Romelu Lukaku to set up the nerviest of nervy finishes, but City held on. Dzeko was the match-winner in the most important game of the season.
He scored another two against Aston Villa in the penultimate game of the season, leaving just West Ham to beat on the final day. City duly managed it, completing a league-and-cup double in Pellegrini’s first season in charge. Dzeko was one of the heroes if the final few weeks, delivering emphatically when under pressure. It was typical of his time at the club.
Playing alongside the likes of Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez – far more naturally gifted players than Dzeko – has perhaps contributed to the lack of adoration he has received during his time in Manchester, but his importance cannot be understated. Dzeko’s form hasn’t been consistent enough and some criticism is valid, but his impact has been clear. City are now an established elite-level Premier League side capable of winning trophies regularly. That wasn’t the case immediately post-takeover. It’s taken time, and Dzeko has been a key player in ensuring the transition from perennial underachievers to a team who have won a clean sweep of domestic honours in recent seasons.
History will be kind to his legacy in England and he leaves for a new challenge in Rome safe in the knowledge he paid back the £27 million fee City paid to bring him from Wolfsburg in 2011. City have spent massively since 2008 and there are plenty who left having failed to prove their worth. Dzeko does not fall into that category and it’s time he was acknowledged as a vital player.
Written by Rob Pollard