x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Route to the Premier League been circuitous one for Edin Dzeko

The Manchester City striker grew up in a war zone but says the experience, though scary, has shaped his desire to succeed as a footballer.

Edin Dzeko has scored 13 goals in 20 games in2011/12 in all competitions, including 10 in eight Premier League starts.
Edin Dzeko has scored 13 goals in 20 games in2011/12 in all competitions, including 10 in eight Premier League starts.

It was amid the bombs and bullets of the siege of Sarajevo that a youthful Edin Dzeko came face to face with images no child should ever witness.

Dzeko woke every morning to the sound of gunfire, wondering whether he or his family were to be the next victims of a Balkan war.

The story goes that his mother, Belma, once saved him from death as a boy by calling him in from the field where he was playing football, seconds before a bomb landed on that very piece of turf.

He says his first recollections of life left an indelible mark on him.

"The conflict started in my country just as I was born and my early life was nothing but fighting, war and bullets in the walls of the buildings," Dzeko said.

"The closest I came to being a victim of the war was when our home was destroyed by the bombs and my family had to move everything we owned to my grandparents' house. As many as 15 of us were crammed into these small rooms. It was tough.

"Our lives were dominated by the conflict as everyone knew someone in the military and this meant we were all touched by the death of friends and family.

"It was a frightening experience to be in Sarajevo when the city was under siege every day, but this was the life I was given and to be honest, I don't enjoy talking about it so much now.

"Football has allowed me to do something different, something amazing, for myself and my family and I'm very grateful for this. I also feel my experiences in childhood made my desire to succeed in this sport bigger than others. I fear nothing now," the Manchester City forward said ahead of tonight's Premier League game against Chelsea.

Against such a backdrop it is remarkable Dzeko has emerged as a high-class international striker who scores goals with the same fluency as he speaks English, German and Bosnian.

Muhamed Konjic, the former Bosnia defender who played for Monaco in France and Coventry City in England, hails Dzeko's rise as the stuff of fairy tales. He felt his fellow Bosnian always had that inner hunger to carve out a career as a professional footballer.

"I believe I was playing with Coventry at the time and I told some of my friends in England that this was a player worth looking at," Konjic said.

"When I first saw Edin I thought, yes, this is a boy that can go far. No one believed me at the time and I'm sure they regret this advice now."

Dzeko started his career in his home city of Sarajevo as a 17-year-old midfielder at Zeljeznicar. With a record of five goals in 40 games, it was no wonder the directors of the Bosnian club said "we [thought] we had won the lottery" when Teplice, the unheralded Czech club, made a bid of €25,000 (Dh124,000).

The offer for the Under 21 international was immediately accepted and it turned out to be shrewd piece of business. After two years he was sold to Wolfsburg for 160 times the amount the club paid for him. Four years and 66 goals in 111 appearances later Dzeko's value had rocketed once more with City paying £27 million (Dh155.8m) for his services.

Having endured such a harrowing experience as a child, you would have thought the comfort of life at the well-to-do world of City would have been plain sailing. But that was not the case. He mustered two league goals in his first six months at the club

"It was very tough for me in the opening few months in Manchester because everything was so different and I wondered if I could adapt," Dzeko said.

"You feel the need to prove yourself in a team full of so many stars and the attention is all on Manchester City right now. We are the team that everyone talks about for spending so much money and you don't want to be the guy who falls short.

"The way I looked at it at the end of last season was I had been a part of the first City team to win a trophy in 35 years, which was a sign that I must have contributed something to this club.

"It inspired me come back with a fresh attitude this season and thankfully, the goals have come for me. People can now see why City worked so hard to get me at the club."

With the guidance of Roberto Mancini's coaching team, Dzeko finally became acclimatised to life in the Premier League and this manifested itself on the field. He scored four goals in the 5-1 rout of Tottenham Hotspur in August and twice in City's historic 6-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in October.

Yet Dzeko's standing among the leading scorers in the Premier League did not make him immune from being hauled off by Mancini in the Champions League tie with Bayern Munich in September.

Frustrated at being replaced on his return to Germany, Dzeko shook his head and hurled down his boots in a display of petulance.

He immediately apologised for his actions and spent the next game, against Blackburn Rovers, on the substitutes' bench.

"People like to see this guy who has not changed despite amazing success," Konji said. "They like Edin's story and that he is representing Bosnia on the biggest pitches. We are all proud of him."

Dzeko's mother echoes those sentiments, though she is concerned about the pitfalls of being a multimillionaire footballer.

"My worry is all the money and the success will allow some bad people to attach themselves to my son," Belma said.

"Some girls like to be with famous footballers for the wrong reasons and I do not want to see Edin damaged by them. He is a sensible boy, but obviously I have some concerns."

sports@thenational.ae