Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina still bears the scars of war. Pock-marked buildings, rubble, infantile beggars and a slight air of tension that suggests something could kick-off. Coaches from Dubrovnik have to park on one side of the river to ensure they don’t get stoned or damaged in some way. It doesn’t make you feel especially comfortable walking around a city that represented a defining moment in the Balkan war.
Across the river sits the Old Bridge, the city’s iconic symbol that was destroyed in the war. Daredevil locals dive from it into the perilously shallow Neretva river that runs beneath. We arrive on the bridge just as a wiry youth, no more than 19, is inviting bids for him to take the plunge. The tourists, keen to get a snap of someone hurtling into the water, build up a sizeable sum and he agrees to jump. On his back is a Bosnia-Herzegovina football shirt. He turns to reveal the name Dzeko and a number 11. “English?….Dzeko….good, no?”, he asks. We nod in agreement.
Walking around the Mostar market, the name Dzeko can be seen hanging from various stalls and shops. On the reverse of Bosnia, Manchester City and even Wolfsburg shirts, all documenting the various stopping points of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s favourite footballing son.
“Dzeko is a big, big, hero here,” said one stallholder. “He is fantastic. You want a shirt?”. I decline the offer, but enquire about a couple of pennants, picking up souvenirs of Sarajevo FC and Velez Mostar.
Edin Dzeko may be a “big” hero – he’s 6 ft 4in – in his home country, but his stock has certainly fallen at Manchester City and there’s constant talk of him leaving the club, despite his recent landmark of 50 Premier goals for City. Dzeko’s season has been punctuated by injuries and in the squad game of today, you cannot afford to be out for too long – simply, you get forgotten, someone takes your place and before you know it, you hear that your club is looking at potential new signings.
City have been linked with Mario Mandzukic of Atletico Madrid and the rumour mill suggests that both Dzeko and another Balkan striker, Stevan Jovetic, may be on their way to make room for the former Bayern Munich man and recent arrival Wilfried Bony. Given that Atletico manager Diego Simeone is supposed to be lined-up to replace Manuel Pellegrini in the summer, there could be some credibility in that story.
Dzeko’s biggest problem, apart from his fitness this season, is that he’s not Sergio Aguero, arguably the Premier Division’s most talented and technical striker. He’s only started 17 league games this season, scoring four goals, but in the past three campaigns, he’s scored 14, 14 and 16 in the Premier. His overall goalscoring record with City is good – 71 in 180 appearances. Given he’s only 28, he still has plenty to offer and he definitely provides an alternative to the style of Aguero and Bony. He probably won’t be doing it at the Etihad in 2015-16.
The big target man approach is not de rigeur at the moment, but Dezko’s not a player who is just good in the air. Some City fans have lost patience with the Bosnian, claiming that in a one-man attack, Dzeko lacks the mobility and artistry to succeed, but against teams who struggle to defend at set pieces (such as Barcelona!), Dzeko is a real menace. He’s not likely be first choice at City, certainly not while Aguero is there, but he could be an excellent impact substitute. The problem is, he’s undoubtedly too expensive to be confined to that and at 28, he will be looking for regular football. The Bundesliga could see the return of the former Wolfsburg player who scored 66 goals in 111 games in his last stint in Germany.
Should City keep him? I believe they should try to accommodate him, because a striking pool of Aguero, Bony and Dzeko gives all kinds of alternatives. But who knows what the City squad will look like after another summer of churning it over?