Damir Kulaš –
Last Sunday saw Edin Dzeko net his first goal since the end of the January transfer window. In their 5-2 home win over the lowly Benevento. The header was his eleventh strike of the season and helped Eusebio di Francesco’s men overtake city rivals Lazio into fourth as they brace themselves for a crucial Champions League tie against Shakhtar Donetsk.
That strike was his 48th league goal for Roma and came weeks after a proposed move to Chelsea broke down, with Antonio Conte’s side electing to sign Frenchman Olivier Giroud from Arsenal as part of a three-way trade also involving Borussia Dortmund signing Michy Batshuayi on loan. With his future secure, the Bosnian will no doubt turn his attention to returning to the form that saw him net 29 times in claiming the Capocannoniere.
The failed move to Stamford Bridge is a win-win for everyone involved. For Giroud, it is clear that his preference was to stay in London and at Chelsea he is likely to play a more prominent role towards the tail end of the season due to Alvaro Morata’s recent struggles with form and injury. This, in turn, should see increased game time and provide an ampler opportunity for the 31-year-old to force himself into Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad – potentially ahead of former teammate Alexandre Lacazette whom he had been playing second fiddle to. Chelsea have a forward who fits into Conte’s plans and one who is perhaps more accepting of a role off the bench should Morata be fit and firing.
Dzeko always seemed reluctant about joining Chelsea
Throughout the entire transfer talk, Dzeko seemed rather reluctant to join Emerson Palmieri in West London and who can blame him. Conte’s future looks uncertain, and the Italian has longed for a return to the homeland while also being a target for Paris Saint-Germain. With the ex-Azzurri manager unlikely to be at the helm for the start of next season, Dzeko might have seen himself unwanted by any potential new man in charge. At the Olimpico, Eusebio di Francesco’s reign at the club looks assured with the Sarajevo-native the Giallorossi’s leading man up front despite their summer signing of exciting young Czech forward Patrick Schick.
During his four-and-a-half-year stay in Manchester, Dzeko netted 50 league goals in 130 Premier League matches, a respectable figure for a player purchased for a €32 million fee. In that time, he helped the Citizens claim two Premier League titles, as well as an FA and league cup with his equaliser against Queen’s Park Rangers paving the way for Sergio Agüero’s dramatic winner. But his time at the Etihad was not always rosy with the Bosnian growing increasingly frustrated at both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini for their preferred use of Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Negredo respectively to partner Agüero. Feeling somewhat under-appreciated in England is not something which appealed to the marksman who has no such issues in Rome.
The slower-paced nature of Serie A suits an ageing Dzeko who is now two goals shy of a half-century of goals in Italy’s top flight and would like to prolong his career as much as possible. The arrival of former City teammate and good friend Aleksandar Kolarov last summer is another bonus with the Balkan pair relishing the opportunity to play alongside one another with the Serbian left-back already providing three assists for the Bosnian Diamond this term. The fact that Rome is just over an hour away from his hometown Sarajevo is an added incentive with Dzeko frequently making trips back to his home city or the nearby Croatian coastline to visit family and friends. Having bought a house in the Italian capital last year and with two young children to nurture, a move back to England was not a priority for the Bosnian national-team captain.
For the club, it would have appeared silly to sell Dzeko at a time when securing qualification for next season’s Champions League is of primary importance especially given their plans to move into a new stadium in the near future. Nor are Roma out of this season’s edition of the tournament and will fancy their chances going into their clash against Ukrainian Champions Shakhtar next week. Should they make the last eight of the competition, di Francesco will be hoping Dzeko, and his teammates can muster up the form which them trouble Chelsea in the group stages. If they can return to the defensive solidarity that saw them concede just nine goals in 19 Serie A games from September to December, while also firing all on cylinders up front, Roma could be a good chance of reaching the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in the Champions League era.
Is Ünder the new Salah?
Roma’s other striker Schick has struggled to displace the Bosnian out of the side and is still yet to score in ten league outings since joining the club from Sampdoria in the summer after his initial move to Juventus broke down over a failed medical. While some Giallorossi fans might claim the Czech forward has had limited opportunities to showcase his talents in front of goal due to the presence of Dzeko, a more accurate explanation is that Schick has not been up to the task when the chance presents itself. His last-minute failure to score against Juventus in December when one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny is illustrative of such a point.
With Roma now into the last three months of their campaign, their win against Benevento might have offered their supporters of a taste of things to come. Since Mohamed Salah’s departure to Liverpool in the summer, Roma have failed to replace him. Earlier on in the season, Dzeko lamented the departure of the Egyptian to Merseyside with the pair enjoying an almost telepathic understanding last season with Salah directly assisting seven of Dzeko’s Serie A goals. The man tasked with replacing him is young Turkish winger Cengiz Ünder who until recently had failed to spark in Roman colours. However, his winner against Verona the week before might have proved to be a turning point as he followed it up with a brace and an assist for Dzeko—if the two can continue to link up and emulate the Dzeko-Salah partnership, expect to see the Bosnian marksman to be prolific during the business end of the season.
Thus, while some may have seen the failure of his proposed transfer move to Chelsea as an opportunity lost, the all-time lead goalscorer for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team is feeling at home in Rome and is an important part of Roma’s plans for the remainder of the campaign and beyond.
Damir Kulaš is a 22-year-old politics/law student currently residing in Melbourne. Originally from Bosnia, his work has been featured in These Football Times as well as several Australian publications. Follow Damir on Twitter @damirkulas