Dzeko out to eclipse his former idol Shevchenko
Published 10/03/2011 | 05:00
The real heroes of Kiev's Valeri Lobanovskiy Stadium are sculpted in the basalt rock statue outside it: four of Dynamo's wartime players who gave their lives opposing Nazi occupation.
But that does not mean Manchester City's Edin Dzeko will not seek out a hero of his own as he tries to reinforce the value of the £27m his club laid out for him in January.
Dzeko's idol is Andrei Shevchenko -- the player he worshipped as the best striker in Europe -- and to whom he beat a path when his own Wolfsburg side arrived in Italy to play Shevchenko's Milan.
Shevchenko's autographed Rossoneri No 7 shirt also hangs framed in the home Dzeko still keeps in Sarajevo. "I can only say that he was always the favourite player for me," Dzeko admitted as City arrived here last night. "We exchanged shirts when we played."
And as for that shirt on the wall: "It was bought for me, because all my friends and family back home know how much of a Milan fan I am, and it really is my prized possession. It always brings a smile to my face when I see it."
Both players were the talk of the continent when they and their teams met. It was Gianluca Vialli who said nearly two years ago that Dzeko reminded him "of a young Shevchenko" -- with speculation at that time of the then Wolfsburg player leaving for San Siro.
But that was then. The challenge ahead for Dzeko is to turn the weight of expectation at City into goals. Shevchenko's miserable record at Chelsea -- just nine goals in 48 Premier League appearances before he was shipped back to Kiev -- reveals how a multi-million pound move to England can deliver a different kind of fate.
Dzeko brushed away that suggestion when it was put to him last night.
"I think he was a fantastic player," he said of the Ukrainian. "He had some tough times in England, but that's football. England is very different from other leagues and I'll have to get used to it. Hopefully, I'll have a lot of success in England also."
Dzeko's acclimatisation to England has not been instantaneous. His former Wolfsburg manager Steve McClaren said last month that it might be next season before we see the 24-year-old reach his full potential.
Though two goals against Aris at Eastlands which sent his club through to this last-16 tie hinted at the promise of Diamante ("the Diamond") -- as Dzeko is known in Bosnia -- Roberto Mancini's chopping and changing between Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, starting with Italian in the two last games, suggest he has not yet decided on his preferred strike force.
The levels of praise Mancini heaped on the young man sitting to his right last night certainly indicated that he feels Dzeko has the qualities his Ukrainian hero displayed before leaving Milan for west London.
"Edin is one of the best strikers in Europe," Mancini said. "It is not easy to start with a new team in a new league in January, but I'm happy that he will be one of the best strikers in England.
"We have three strikers at this moment and sometimes they can play together, but not always."
On a pitch which has suffered from the ravages of a Ukrainian winter, with temperatures expected down to be -3C or lower tonight, there is little for City to look forward to against an opposition who have always been obdurate here in the face of English opposition, losing only twice at home.
Other than their long-term injury casualties, City left only James Milner (hamstring) at home, with Shaun Wright-Phillips not fully recovered from a back injury, despite having travelled.
"The problem is the pitch because it's not very good," Mancini observed. "It's a hard pitch, because it's cold."
There are other obstacles, as the seemingly endless Europa League journey begins to rise to tougher territory.
The local hero who presents the most obvious parallel with Dzeko is the one who has done most to secure Kiev's progress so far, Artem Milevskiy's five goals in the group stage underlining the threat the 6ft 3in striker may pose, with Shevchenko tucking in behind.
The third-highest scorer in European competitions -- only Filippo Inzaghi and Raul can better Shevchenko's 66 goals -- is unquestionably a threat too, though.
He scored a goal in each leg of the first knockout round against Besiktas, including a beautiful curling effort in the second leg.
Mancini seemed to have caused a minor diplomatic incident by deciding that City's open training session would take place in Manchester before the team flew out at lunchtime.
"We've come here just to see the pitch because we are playing on it tomorrow," said the nonplussed Italian. Can Dzeko be the secret weapon?
"I'm not just a big player who has come to head the ball," he said. Time to prove he can be a Shevchenko. (© Independent News Service)