Edin Dzeko scored the other late goal for Manchester City on May 13, 2012 – a goal that no one recalls as well as what followed two minutes later at the Etihad Stadium when Queens Park Rangers collapsed again and the course of English football changed.
Then just 26, Dzeko was in a familiar position in his City career that afternoon – a substitute who had come on for the last part of the game, in this case with his team in a heightened state of emergency. It was Dzeko who scored the equaliser before Sergio Aguero’s winner clinched a first league title for the club in 44 years, and began what would eventually become the era of Abu Dhabi-owned City’s domestic dominance.
Eleven years later and aged 37, Dzeko is in the Inter Milan team who stand between City and a treble in Saturday night’s Champions League final in Istanbul. He does so at what might be the end of an astonishing career for a player who grew up in wartime Sarajevo. His goals at Wolfsburg, City and now Inter mean that he is the only player in history to score 50 or more in three of Europe’s big five leagues.
He is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s greatest player of the post-Yugoslavia era, and the country’s all-time top international goalscorer.
“He is our most valuable player,” says Bosnia and Herzegovina football federation general secretary Adnan Dzemidzic. “He is the engine of the national team. Without him, we are a totally different team. He is so important for our national team, because he is a born leader on the pitch. Also, outside the pitch.”
Dzeko was just six when the Bosnian war began in April 1992. After its cessation in 1995, the young Dzeko emerged into a very different world to the one Sarajevo had known as part of Yugoslavia.
“The quality of football during that period was very poor,” Dzemidzic says. “There was not enough food, vitamins, equipment. Football changed for the worse. Because the infrastructure was destroyed, the coaches had not been educated. In the former Yugoslavia there was much better quality of the football, coaches, pitches, youth teams.”
It was a slow start for Dzeko who left Bosnia aged 19, but not for one of Europe’s bigger clubs. He joined Teplice in the Czech Republic who signed him from the Sarajevo club Zeljeznicar for €25,000. The deal, at the time, was considered astonishing by the directors of Zeljeznicar. They did not rate highly Dzeko, who had begun as a midfielder and been converted to striker. “He was not treated properly in his first club,” Dzemidzic says. “He moved outside the country at a very young age.”
Eighteen years on, a child who lived through a European war 30 years ago, Dzeko finds himself in Europe’s greatest game. Interviewed on BT Sport by his former team-mate Joleon Lescott, Dzeko conceded that Inter were facing “probably the best team in the world”. “I am 37 and it’s my first and, you never know, probably the last [Champions League final],” he said. “I definitely want to enjoy it.
“We had a great season in the Champions League, less good in Serie A but we won two cups as well, the Italian Cup and the Super Cup, so we are happy … being in the final of the Champions League against my club, City, is a big thing for me. I am looking forward to it as I have a lot of fans at the stadium from both sides. I cannot wish for more.”
Dzeko was signed by City in January 2011, a few months out from the FA Cup that was Abu Dhabi’s first trophy. He departed, initially on loan, in the summer of 2015 – 12 months before the arrival of Pep Guardiola. His career was a sign of how the recruitment was going at City after those first two chaotic years of Abu Dhabi: well-scouted emergent talent signed relatively young and, in some cases at least, moved on in time to earn a good fee.
Dzeko won two Premier League titles as well as that FA Cup in his first season and a League Cup. Of his 189 appearances for City only 117 were starts. Carlos Tevez was still the main man when Dzeko arrived, and one year later, Aguero would replace his fellow Argentine as the first-choice striker.
Yet there was a role to play for Dzeko, much as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had an equally critical job in a previous era at Manchester United. City aspired to a level where they had high quality understudies, who could stand in or come off the bench, and Dzeko offered that.
His best season for goals came in Manuel Pellegrini’s title-winning season, 2013-2014, in which City also won the League Cup. It was also his most starts for City, 36 in all yielding 26 goals in all competitions, just two fewer than Aguero although both were outscored in the Premier League by Yaya Toure.
Yet when City played a crucial second leg in the round of 16 against Barcelona, Dzeko did not start despite Aguero’s injury problems. In his next season, his last at City, Dzeko played much less and scored just six.
In the five seasons that followed City at Roma, Dzeko played much more but won nothing. He scored 119 goals in 260 appearances. Even deep in his 30s at Inter his return has been impressive: 31 in 100. He has started 10 of Inter’s 12 Champions League games so far this season and appeared as a substitute in the other two. He reached the 2014 World Cup finals with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s only appearance at the tournament.
After 16 years and 127 caps he still has not retired from international football.
Yet for all that, it will be his time at City for which he will be best remembered – and perhaps whatever happens in Istanbul tonight.
“We were a big part of the beginning of City, which was the most important, I think,” he said to Lescott. “I know I meant a lot to the club and the fans.
“That Aguero goal [against QPR in 2012] was like a relief and it brought us the title after so many years. It is normal that that goal is everything. My goal [the equaliser] was as important but maybe the people don’t talk much about that. I know. I think it is important that I know that was a huge goal for Manchester City and the history of the club.”