The lamp-post of Sarajevo takes chance to shine

Most footballers will take any opportunity to avoid talking to the press, so when Edin Dzeko was called away a few minutes into our chat, I didn't really expect to see him again. But a quarter of an hour later he returned. "Sorry about that," he said. "The prime minister turned up and I had to have my picture taken with him." Which tells you two things: that the Wolfsburg forward has become a major celebrity in Bosnia; and that he seems utterly unfazed by it.

A Sarajevo journalist tells the story of having gone to Germany a couple of years ago to do a piece on the two Bosnian players at Hoffenheim. On his way back he and his photographer made a snap decision to drive to Wolfsburg to see Dzeko. Not only did he agree to a lengthy interview late that evening, but having tried to book them into a hotel and discovered that a VW conference meant there were no beds to be had anywhere in the vicinity, he gave them the keys to his own flat and went to stay with his girlfriend.

The sense of hospitality is typically Bosnian, and it is that, as much as his goals, that has made him such a popular figure in his homeland.

He is very much a child of Sarajevo – and it may be, of course, that it is precisely that which makes him such an atypical footballer. "I was six when the war started," he said. "It was terrible. My house was destroyed so we went to live with my grandparents. The whole family was there, maybe 15 people all staying in an apartment about 35 metres square. It was very hard. We were stressed every day in case somebody we knew died."

Football was the last thing on his mind. "A lot of footballers start to play kicking a ball around in the street but for me that was impossible," he said. "But when the war finished I was much stronger mentally. After the war I played with my friends in the streets, at school, then my father took me to Zeljeznicar." One of the two great clubs of the city, Zeljeznicar's stadium lay on the front line. When the siege was finally lifted, the first thing players and officials had to do was to clear the pitch of mines.

Even once he began training though, the idea of playing in the Champions' League seemed remote. He was tall and gangling, and in a country that believes players should be nippy and creative, he became something of a figure of fun and was given the nickname "Kloc" – a slang term for a lamp-post. When the Czech side Teplice offered to buy him for €25,000 (£23,000), as one director put it, "we thought we'd won the lottery".

Teplice understood how to use a target man and, after two seasons there, he was sold to Wolfsburg for €4.5 million. When Milan and Arsenal came sniffing in the summer, his estimated value had shot up to around €25m.

Given his style of play has so regularly been described as "English", it is the Premier League that really tempts him. "It will be something unbelievable to play Manchester United," Dzeko said. "It's a chance for me to play against some of the best defensive players in Europe, and I want to show that I can play on the big stage. I am a fan of AC Milan, but my big dream is to play in England."

To suggest Dzeko is just a target man, though, would be unfair, for while he is good in the air and holds the ball up well, he is also quick and, as his 26 goals in 29 games last season proved, he can finish.

His strike partnership with the rapid Brazilian dribbler Grafite was crucial to Wolfsburg's first Bundesliga title, the service being provided by another Bosnian, the elegant if slow Zvjezdan Misimovic.

"We played two years in the national team together, and also in Wolfsburg, so I know him and he knows me," Dzeko said. "He's a very good technical player and he's very clever, and for every striker it's important to have somebody behind like him. He's a good passer and if you make a run he always sees it."

With Bosnia seemingly on the brink of a play-off spot for World Cup qualification, that relationship between Dzeko and Misimovic, a Bosnian Serb who was born in Munich and played for Serbia at youth level, has become emblematic of the spirit of unity that has carried the national squad forward over the past 18 months.

Characteristically, Dzeko is relaxed about the issue. "For me it was never a problem if somebody was Serb, Croat or Muslim," he said. "What is important is whether they are a good man."

Arts and Entertainment
Masterchef cooks Tony Rodd (left), Emma Spitzer (second left) and
Simon Wood (right) posing with judges Gregg Wallace (centre) and John Torode (second right), as the three will be seen cooking their hearts out in the hopes of winning the show.
TVReview: Tired Geography teacher John Torode and shaved Scotch egg Gregg Wallace crown the champion
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week
Life and Style
The Grand Palais in Paris will be transformed into a 4,000-seat cinema, with 44 double beds at the front
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road