In a wide-ranging interview with Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, Edin Dzeko reflects on his difficult first season with the club, the criticism and scrutiny that comes with playing for Roma, and the huge impact Luciano Spalletti has had on his performances and perspective.
After a difficult first season, the Bosnia & Herzegovina international already has 20 goals in all competitions for the Giallorossi - and acknowledges that his coach has had a lot to do with that upturn.
Read the full details of the interview, conducted this week, which began by asking the No. 9 about his general impressions of life in the Italian capital.
“Rome is an amazing city, especially after living in Manchester and Wolfsburg," Dzeko said. "Driving is a bit of a problem, though – the streets look like the roads in Sarajevo after the bombing.
"You can see the city is struggling in some ways. Money needs to be spent on the roads – you can't just abandon them like that.”
Are you able to walk around the city at all?
“It's not easy. I've been into the centre a few times, well covered up to avoid being recognised. With a hat and glasses. I remember I came to Rome when I was playing for Man City and no one even looked at me. I could go wherever I wanted. It's not like that anymore. I managed to go for a quick walk in Via Condotti the Monday after I scored against Juventus, but I'd only just arrived – it was the first game. That said, Rome is still Rome. When I was in Manchester it rained a lot and if we'd had our girl while we were there it would have been difficult to go out. Here we can go outside every day: it's a better place to grow up. [Luciano] Spalletti says 'Life is good in Rome' and he's totally right.”
Is it a difficult atmosphere to work in?
“Generally speaking it's harder than elsewhere.”
Too much criticism?
“There was less pressure in England. If you're not playing well you expect criticism. It's part and parcel of the game and I accept that. Rome is similar to Bosnia: people don't criticise, they insult you. So I'm used to it. They do it back home. You have three good games then one bad one and they start insulting you again. It's as if they're just waiting for the right moment to pounce on you.”
So do you think people have been overly nasty here?
“I just remember what I've experienced myself and I remember that if I play well all game then miss one chance everyone talks about the chance I missed. Nothing else. Last year it ended up affecting Spalletti too, as he stopped picking me.”
Is there one miss in particular you still think about?
“I try not to spend too much time looking back at the chances I've missed but that one against Palermo was inexplicable.”
“It summed up my whole season and the form I was in. When that chance came across it wasn't me out there – that wasn't my foot. There's really no explanation for it. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I've missed plenty of goals in my time but never like that. I set up two goals that night but no one mentioned them. It's always my mistakes that get remembered.”
Which is your favourite goal?
“The one I scored against Juventus, my first. It's important to get off the mark quickly when you join a new club. I live to score goals and I hope to score lots more and play even better.”
Is it true that Silvano Martina, who is Gigi Buffon's agent and a friend of your dad's, asked if you wanted to join Juve?
“Silvano is an important person in my life and I talk to him about lots of different things. It's true there was the opportunity for me to join Juventus but I ended up at Roma and I'm happy with my choice.”
Going back to that first goal you scored against Juve, why do you think the season didn't go well after that?
“I didn't have a proper pre-season last year because I wanted to leave City and I didn't play in the friendlies. After two or three months at Roma my fitness levels started to drop. I wasn't as ready as I feel now.”
Did you ever consider leaving?
“It happens when you're not playing but then I decided to stay and I became more and more convinced about it. Even in our last home game against Chievo, I didn't play that day but I said to myself, 'I'm not leaving this club.' It was my choice; no one asked me to stay. It was a challenge I wanted to win. I went on holiday, forgot about everything for a while then came back and got going again.”
At other clubs too you've had a so-so first season before turning it on in your second. Why is that?
“I don't know why it happens but, yes, that's the way it's always been for me.”
What changed for you when Rudi Garcia left and Spalletti came in?
“They're different. Before I came here lots of players told me training was hard n Italy. I'd joked about it with [Roberto] Mancini and he told me to prepare myself for some hard work. [Stevan] Jovetic told me the same thing. Then when I joined Roma Garcia was here and it wasn't exactly as they'd described it to me. It was partly our fault: lots of us were tired and had physical problems and Rudi didn't want to overdo things in training. But then it was hard for us to perform well for the whole game. After 70 minutes we were all tired. He needed to be a bit tougher on us, like Spalletti is, and make sure people didn't take things too easy. Roma is a great club and we need to be winning all the time but you get nowhere if you're not properly prepared. That's what I like about Spalletti: he's very demanding and expects us to give 100% all the time, both in matches and in training.”
Do you like it when he says you're a bit soft?
“That's normal. He always wants more from me and the rest of the team. We're footballers but we're people too and we have feelings, so I'd perhaps like to hear a few compliments from him every now and then – say that I've done well. Not that I've got anything against Spalletti. I want to keep improving and his words motivate me.”
What are Spalletti's strengths and weaknesses?
“He's got personality. A coach needs to show the players who's boss and he does that. Much like [Felix] Magath at Wolfsburg. Spalletti wants to win at all costs and that's a good thing for Roma. It's not easy in Rome: if you win three in a row it's as if you've won the title but if you lose one then it's a disaster. That's not right. Spalletti focuses on all the tiny little details. He wants everything to be perfect even in training. He really drums that message in: he's always telling us that if we want to be successful we have to train well.”
How does Serie A compare to the other leagues you've played in?
“The Premier League is the best but I've learnt lots of things in a year and a half in Italy – perhaps more than in the eight years I spent in Germany and England. It's different in Italy. It's more challenging. If I'd played here before going to England, it would have helped a lot.”
So you think Serie A helps you improve as a player?
“It does, thanks to coaches like Spalletti, who is perhaps one of the best I've ever had. And I thought the same even when I wasn't playing. That's why I think I could have done even better in the Premier League if I'd had him as a coach before going there.”
Is there more attention to the tactical and technical aspects of the game?
“Tactics rule here and it's important for a centre-forward too because you learn what movements to make.”
But you don't see yourself as a target man?
“No, I don't. I'm not the sort of striker who stands around in the box waiting for the ball to come in. I like starting from deeper and getting involved in the build-up play. I like setting my team-mates up too. When I was younger I was a right winger and [Andriy] Shevchenko was my idol. I fell in love with him when he scored that hat-trick against Barcelona at Camp Nou.”
So it's not Marco van Basten, as some people say in Bosnia?
“People have compared me to him but in my eyes, in the early days, Sheva was the only one for me.”
You had an offer from China. Why did you turn it down?
“You only have one career and I don't feel old yet. I want to play at the top for a long time. That comes before anything else for me. Even when it comes to the financial side: I've earned good money and I'm happy as I am. I chose to stay at Roma so that I can win things here. I haven't thought about what I'll do when I hang up my boots yet because I still see that as a long way off.”
Would you be happy if Roma signed another striker? People have always said Roma need back-up for Dzeko.
“I'll just say this: I like to play games but every now and then it's good to have a rest.”