It's "Inside Manchester City week" at Bleacher Report, and to get things started, Rob Pollard sat down for an exclusive chat with City striker Edin Dzeko.
Edin Dzeko's status at Manchester City since he arrived from Wolfsburg in 2011 hasn't always been as high as it is currently. At first, he struggled to settle, often displaying erratic form meaning he failed to nail down a regular first-team spot. His touch was sometimes criticised, but despite his deficiencies, he would score important goals, even if a feeling pervaded that he was capable of offering much more.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, though, his form and consistency has improved greatly. Dzeko now leads the line well and brings a physical presence, with the faith shown by his manager clearly having a positive effect.
Before City's opening-day win at Newcastle this season, Daniel Taylor, chief football writer at The Guardian, suggested the club had lined up a move for Edinson Cavani before Pellegrini arrived, only for the Chilean to pull the rug from under the deal because of his belief in Dzeko's talents:
Since the turn of the year, he's been much-improved, and during last season's run-in, as City closed in on their second title in three years, he scored a series of vital goals.
His strikes against Crystal Palace, Everton and Aston Villa, in particular, were key to the club's success. Add to that his equaliser against QPR on the last day of the 2011-12 as City won their first title in 44 years, and it becomes even more obvious he is a man for the big occasion.
Dzeko, as David Platt used to say, scores "heavy goals."
He's a star at international level, too, having become Bosnia and Herzegovina's all-time leading goalscorer and a hero in his homeland after leading them to their first-ever major tournament at this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Bleacher Report recently caught up with him for an exclusive interview, looking at his time at City and his future at both club and international level.
ROB POLLARD: Edin, City have really become a major force in English football in your time at the club, winning two league titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup. Sum up your time here for me?
EDIN DZEKO: I’m enjoying it. I’ve won a few trophies here, and since the club didn’t win any in the last 44 years before I came, or the other lads came, I think we did a good job in the last four years, so you have to be happy with that—winning two titles, two cups and the Community Shield.
RP: It seems your own form under Manuel Pellegrini has improved significantly. Is that a fair assessment?
ED: I think it’s important for every player to feel the confidence of the manager. I feel it since he came here, and I’m just doing my best. Sometimes you score; sometimes you can't score. It’s just football, but you have to give your best, and I think we play fantastic here. Last season, personally, was my best, so hopefully we can continue this year.
RP: David Silva is becoming known as one of the greatest players this club has ever had and is clearly one of the best players playing in the Premier League. What's it like playing in the same side as someone with his ability?
ED: For me, he’s top-three players in the Premier League, and to have him around here is amazing, not just for me but for the club. What he can do is just unbelievable; not many players can do it, and when you see his goal against West Ham, you just say 'wow.' David Silva is a great player, and also off the pitch, he’s a great lad.
RP: What do you feel you and the other guys can achieve here?
ED: We want to bring more trophies to the club and definitely to improve in the Champions League, since we didn’t do well in the last few years. Normally it takes time for everything [to click]; you can’t do it overnight. As I said, we already have won five trophies, so definitely in the next few years we want to win at least what we’ve already won.
RP: City seem unable to produce their best football in the Champions League. Why is that?
ED: I don’t know. It’s difficult to say what’s the problem, you know, because we had some great games in the Champions League, but for some reason we can’t reach our top level—how we play in the Premier League—and we definitely have to work on it and try to learn how to play against teams in Champions League. When you think it will be easy, it’s not; it’s never easy there.
RP: Is it a formation issue?
ED: I don’t think it's formation. We try to play with two strikers. I don't think it’s a tactics problem; it’s more head problems. Maybe we think against some teams in the Champions League, like CSKA, it will be easier, but it’s not, they’re champions; they’re used to playing attacking football and winning trophies, so you have to respect each club and especially when you play against big clubs.
RP: Last season's league-title win must have been special. What's the mood like among the players?
ED: Yeah, I think last year was amazing. We played a great season, but that’s now behind us, and now we have to concentrate on this year because now everyone wants to beat the champions. We saw against West Ham how teams are playing against us, and sometimes it’s difficult, but if we think it’ll be easier than last season, then we’re definitely wrong. We need to give more than last year.
ED: I don’t think so. I think last season, Liverpool was in front of us just a few games before the end, so it’s different being behind in the last five, six games than after just 10 games. It will definitely be Chelsea who are the main threat to us winning the league. They’re playing good, but there’s still so many games to play, and they will drop points like we did.
RP: What's been the highlight of your time at City?
ED: I don’t know, maybe winning the first title because it was like something phenomenal that doesn’t happen too often. These things happen just once in a life, and to win the league in, like, the last two minutes of the last game of the season is amazing; nobody expected it.
RP: So, the first team have now moved over to the new Etihad Campus. How are the players finding it?
ED: Yeah, it’s amazing, and we all waited for this. Now we’re there and just enjoying the new camp and all the facilities there. We’ve improved all of those things, and we definitely need to improve as well on the pitch, so bringing more titles to the club will definitely match this amazing campus.
RP: The squad appears much happier under Pellegrini than they were under Roberto Mancini. What's the difference between the two managers you've played under here?
ED: I don’t like to talk too much about differences between managers. We won the title and FA Cup with Mancini, and Community Shield as well, so we had a good time with him.
It’s normal that the manager is changing; the players are changing, so you have to get used to each manager, and now we already won two cups in the first year with the new manager, and we’re doing well, we’re happy, and hopefully we can win more.
RP: How close have you come to leaving City in the past?
ED: No, I think it was so many times in the newspapers talking about me leaving, but I never wanted to leave, and I always wanted to prove my point that I deserve to be here, and I think I did it and signed a new deal as well.
RP: Yourself and a few other important players signed new long-term deals at the club this season. That kind of stability must help the squad, surely?
ED: Yes, it’s important to keep the important players, and I think the things we have achieved in the last season definitely we can say the players deserved it, and so many players from other clubs I’m definitely sure they wish to play for Manchester City.
Other clubs are saying, you know, 'they spent too much money,' but everyone is spending. Look how other teams spend money and they can’t win the games. It’s not overnight, you know, If you want a good team, of course you have to spend, but you have to spend it right, and I think we did it right. Now we have the team, we don't have to spend too much money; we just have to build a team and try to win trophies.
RP: Is the German or English league stronger?
ED: English Premier League is much harder and quicker, and also the referees are totally different because in England they don’t whistle after every small contact, like in Germany. If you touch the defender in Germany, it’s already a foul. Here it’s different. That gives you also more attacking and quicker football, like it is in England, because if you stop every 15 seconds for some small foul, then you kill the game.
RP: Very few players achieve the same level of acclaim you have at international level. How does it feel to be a hero in your country?
ED: It feels good, you know, because we just have our first big competition like World Cup, and I'm proud of myself and proud of the team and what we have achieved, and definitely this will be a big experience for us, for the country and also for the team to try and do it again and again. The first time is always the most difficult time, so hopefully for us in the future it will be easier to achieve other big competitions.
RP: You won the title in 2012 in glorious circumstances, but the following season City's defence of the trophy was poor. What went wrong?
ED: I don't know. We just thought it would be easier to win it next year since we were champions, but the year after is even more difficult. Now we know that.
RP: Is Manchester now a city you would consider living in after retirement?
ED: No. Definitely not. After I finish with football, I will definitely go home. I won't stay in England, but I like it here, and I’m happy I’m doing what’s best to give everything on the pitch, and then when I can, I relax. But the only bad thing is here maybe the rain is much more than in my country, but everything else I am happy with.
RP: What has been your best game for City?
ED: I don’t know. I had some good games, but it’s hard to say the best one. Maybe when I scored four goals [at Tottenham] as you don’t score four goals in every game.
RP: What would constitute a good season for City?
ED: Well, we need trophies. We’ll see. We can win four trophies, but it’s hard to expect to win all four, since it’s too many games. Maybe the league and the Champions League are the most important, but we count on all four, and we’ll see what it can bring us.
RP: Stevan Jovetic is a wonderful player to watch. He's very exciting and has impressed almost every time he's pulled on a City shirt, but injuries have really held him back since he came here. How good can he be?
ED: I think he already has shown how good he is, and I think the only problem is those injuries. He was unlucky to get injured again this season because I think he started very well, especially he had a great preseason and started great, scored two goals against Liverpool and then he got injured. Hopefully this is behind him because he is a great player, and he can bring a lot of good things for the team.
RP: Mario Balotelli is an incredibly talented player who was part of the title-winning side here in 2012, but, for whatever reason, he's struggling a little bit since he went to Liverpool. What do you feel is holding him back?
ED: I think Mario is a good player. Sometimes you can judge him—if he doesn't score, of course, you can criticise him—but I think the people here they criticise him for some stupid things, like why is he changing shirt at half-time.
In my opinion, I don't see any bad thing in that because maybe Pepe ask him for the shirt, and he’s a good guy. I know Mario, and he would [have] said, 'OK, I’ll give you my shirt,' so where is the problem? Let’s say another player doesn't want to change the shirt, so he respects the fans or the club more? I don't think that’s the point, and I don't think people should criticise him for those things.
If he doesn’t produce on the pitch, then you can criticise him, but other things I think are stupid. People just try to find an excuse to criticise him more, and I don’t think that will bring anything positive to him because then you kill the player, you know?
RP: You said earlier Silva is one of the best three players in the Premier League. Who are the other two?
ED: A good question but I think, like I said, David is definitely top three, but I won’t say the other names because the other two are also from our club! So you can guess!
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow him on Twitter: @RobPollard.