Clichés in football are unavoidable, and a personal favourite of mine is 'it's the hallmark of champions' whenever a team come back from the dead to grind out a vital win. The phrase is synonymous with Manchester United, who genuinely never know when they're beaten; it is an enviable trait for any side to have. Now, though, their city rivals can put a genuine claim to the tag. Manchester City again came from behind to win yesterday against Spurs in dramatic fashion, and it was that man again, Edin Dzeko, who spared City's blushes and secured all three points to keep them within touching distance of United.
Another tremendous cliché, and this may be one of the most oft-repeated ones, is that everyone loves an underdog. Football is at its best when it is competitive; when it is unpredictable. Sure, seeing Real Madrid and Barcelona, arguably the two best club sides in world football, battle it out can be entertaining, but the lack of parity amongst the other 18 teams in La Liga is slowly killing Spanish football. The Premier League was in danger of going the same way with the prominence of the ‘top four’ over the past decade but, thankfully, their stranglehold on the league has been broken over recent years thanks to the emergence of Manchester City, Spurs and Newcastle.
The underdogs have got some bite to go with their bark. In France, Lyon’s dominance on Ligue 1 has been broken: after winning seven successive titles, four different teams have won the title over the past four years, culminating in Montpellier’s incredible success last season when they fended off oil-rich PSG to capture their first ever league title. Similar waves were made in Germany, where Bayern Munich’s monopoly on the Bundesliga has taken a beating. Since the turn of the millennium they have won the league six times in twelve years, but only twice in the last six: Stuttgart won it in 06-07; Wolfsburg in 08-09; and Borussia Dortmund have pipped Bayern to the post for the past two seasons.
Wolfsburg’s first and only Bundesliga title victory was truly remarkable; they had never previously come close the winning the league, and their squad was not filled with household names. But their success was built on strong team ethic and it was inspired by one of the ultimate underdogs. Edin Dzeko’s rise from war survivor to partnering the nomadic Grafite in the most clinical striker combination in the German league history is an incredible tale; it is the type of story that shows how football such a captivating and powerful tool that can be used for good.
Since the 08-09 season he has scored 124 goals in 219 appearances for club and country, a record that matches up with the best forwards out there
It is impossible not to like Dzeko. In a world of modern day football that is plagued with corruption and cynicism, his story is a heart-warming one. At the risk of sounding like the narrator of X-Factor, to say he’s been on a rollercoaster journey is a gross understatement. Forced to flee from his home, which was destroyed in the Bosnian war, as a kid, he was then mocked by the directors of his first club, Zeljeznicar, who thought they’d won the lottery when Teplice offered €25,000 for him in 2005. The trials he has faced and the obstacles he had to overcome - not just to forge a career as a footballer but to escape the war uninjured - are impossible for most people to fathom.
Teplice’s gamble paid off more than handsomely. Dzeko managed to bulk up his gangly frame, developed his game, and a couple of years later was sold on to Wolfsburg for €5m, 20 times what they paid for him. In Germany, under the tutelage of the eccentric Felix Magath, he blossomed in to one of the most lethal strikers on the continent, winning the Bundesliga player of the year award the season Die Wölfe won the league. Since the 08-09 season he has scored 124 goals in 219 appearances for club and country, a record that matches up with the best forwards out there.
It is a real shame, then, to see such a talented forward wasted on the bench, not being used to his full potential at Manchester City. He seems to be Roberto Mancini’s fourth choice striker, which is bizarre given his proven goalscoring record and the fact that, when City need a goal, he is the man they always turn to. He may lack that burst of pace and ability to trouble defenders with his dribbling that City’s other strikers all offer, but none of them have the predatory instincts that Dzeko does.
Dzeko has five league goals to his name, which is as many as City's other three forwards have combined
Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are top class strikers in their own right, of that there is no doubt, and maybe their mobility and ability to contribute to the play outside of the opposition final third is the reason they get the nod over Dzeko. But Mario Balotelli, who has all the tools to become a top centre forward but is a law on to himself, seems to get more opportunities than the Bosnian, which is baffling. City do struggle offensively at times, and often have to rely on an individual moment of brilliance to get them out of trouble, but they have the players to create chances for Dzeko if Mancini really gave it a chance to work.
10 of his 15 appearances this season have been as a substitute and he has completed 90 minutes only once in the league, yet Dzeko has six league goals to his name, which is more than any of City's other three forwards, who have all started more games: Tevez (14), Aguero (9) and Balotelli (7). He has scored eight goals since coming off the bench since the start of last season, more than any other player in the Premier League, but Dzeko is right not to be happy with being labelled a super-sub; he is much more than that. The winner against Spurs, two late goals against West Brom, a late winner at Fulham and an equaliser against Southampton, not to mention his equaliser against QPR on the final game of last season, he is the man who constantly saves City from dropping points. He has also never been given a consecutive run of more than five starts, something Mancini has afforded the other forwards in his squad.
It is time for Mancini to put his faith in Dzeko and give him a prolonged run in the side. If he does, the Bosnian will score goals, and City will get back to the top of the table. After all, these underdog stories are nothing without a happy ending.
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