In the end, Manchester City's championship was almost anti-climactic. This was a final day in the image of their coach, Manuel Pellegrini: calm, understated and professional. Perhaps if Liverpool had scored an early goal at Anfield, perhaps if West Ham United had posed even the hint of a threat, it would have been different, but with City only needing a draw, a repeat of the drama of their title triumph two years ago never seemed likely.
Really, the title was won on Wednesday when City overcame an anxious start to beat Aston Villa 4-0. Yaya Toure, understandably, grabbed the headlines for his stunning late goal, and his form over the last weeks of the season has been vital, but just as important – and in a sense more representative of Pellegrini's City – has been Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian scored twice against Villa, and was instrumental in City's second goal against West Ham, battling to knock a corner down for Vincent Kompany to fire in.
As Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic suffered injuries, Dzeko became vital – yet he probably would have left the club had Roberto Mancini stayed on as manager. It was no secret that the two didn’t get along, and Pellegrini, it is said, had to convince him that there was a place for him at the Etihad, despite the signing of two high-profile forwards in the summer. Dzeko’s opportunities early in the season were limited, but when City needed him, he responded magnificently.
He scored nine goals in the last 11 games of the season, including five in the three before Sunday, recorded doubles against Villa and Everton, settling what could have been awkward games. Tactically, Pellegrini has always been adept at adapting to the players he has available, but historically, he has tended to favour a target-man figure, and Dzeko’s physicality meant there is always another option to complement the neat passing.
It was intriguing to find the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho singling out Dzeko for praise earlier in the week.
“The kind of player he is, he’s not just a goalscorer,” the coach said. “He assists, he plays, he behaves, he’s fair, doesn’t dive, doesn’t try to put opponents in the stands with an accumulation of cards. He was the third-choice striker at the beginning of the season. He was hidden behind his manager’s first choices and when the team needed him in crucial moments of the season, I think he made the difference.”
Of course, with Mourinho, there’s always the possibility there’s some deep Machiavellian motive and that he actually doesn’t rate Dzeko, but was praising him to make sure he remains central to City’s plans. But since Chelsea’s Uefa Champions League elimination, there has been a weary graciousness to much of what he has said, and certainly about opponents. Whatever Mourinho’s intent, his words ring true. There is a basic decency about Dzeko that makes him easy to warm to.
He might not be as open publicly as he once was, which has frustrated some Bosnian journalists, but a story from his time at Wolfsburg seems to encapsulate his personality. A Bosnian writer in Germany on another assignment called him without prior warning to arrange an interview. He agreed, but when the journalist arrived in Wolfsburg, every hotel for miles around was full because of a Volkswagen conference. When Dzeko found out, he gave the journalist the keys to his flat and spent the night at his girlfriend’s. The following morning, he rang the journalist apologetically – he’d forgotten to tell him where the coffee was kept.
After the turmoil of predecessor Roberto Mancini’s reign, City this season have become, thanks to the way they have played and the way they have acted, a team that is easy for neutrals to like.
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