EXCLUSIVE: The pair have played alongside one another for years at international level with Bosnia and Herzegovina but they will be rivals at the Etihad on Tuesday night
By Jasmin Ligata
When Edin Dzeko was a child growing up in war-torn Sarajevo, he would sometimes have to spend his days hiding from grenades in the basement of his family home. But that never stopped the Bosnian from taking every possible opportunity to play the game he loved.
However, one day, his mother Belma refused to allow him to go to the local playground for a match with his friends. It was a decision that may well have saved Dzeko’s life, as the playground was hit by a grenade a matter of minutes later.
Consequently, Dzeko knows more than most that there are far more important things in life than football, which is precisely why Tuesday’s crucial Champions League clash with Roma will not be about rivalry for him – but friendship.
The game at the Etihad Stadium not only brings together two sides intent on qualifying for the last 16 but two men who have played together many times but never against one another – Dzeko and his Bosnia and Herzegovina team-mate, Miralem Pjanic.
“Miralem is my friend,” the Manchester City striker tells Goal. “We spoke right after the draw [for the Champions League group stage] and I am happy we will finally meet.
“He is one of best Roma players and my team-mates will have to keep an eye on him. If we leave him with too much space, it could end fatally for us.”
While Dzeko grew up in Sarajevo, Pjanic was born in Zvornik but his family moved to Luxembourg as soon as the Balkan war broke out. Pjanic started out with Schifflange in his adopted nation before being picked up by Metz, breaking into the senior side in 2007.
After a stellar season at the Stade Municipal Saint-Symphorien, Pjanic joined Olympique Lyonnais, where he established himself as one of the most exciting young playmakers in the game, eventually earning an €11 million move to Roma.
He took some time to settle at the Stadio Olimpico but flourished following the arrival of Rudi Garcia as coach last summer and is now considered one of the finest players in Serie A.
Dzeko took a different route to the top. He came through the youth team ranks at Zeljeznicar before joining Teplice. It was while playing with the Czech outfit that he came to the attention of Wolfsburg, who brought him to the Volkswagen Arena in 2007.
It was an inspired decision, with Dzeko scoring 84 goals in all competitions over the next four seasons before joining Manchester City in 2011 for €32m.
He has proven just as prolific at international level and is his country’s record goalscorer, with 37. Many of those strikes were created by Pjanic but ‘The Little Prince’ was very nearly lost to Luxembourg, whom he represented at underage level.
Indeed, Pjanic was only granted a Bosnian passport in 2008, thanks to the intervention of a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency, Zeljko Komsic.
Still, while their backgrounds may be different, the respect between Pjanic and Dzeko is mutual. Indeed, after watching Dzeko net twice in City’s 4-2 win at Hull on the weekend, Pjanic knows that his international colleague is more than capable of shooting down Roma.
“Edin is in top form and he will be the biggest threat,” the midfielder admits to Goal. “I hope he will have a bad day on Tuesday!
“He is very dangerous and I know how little space and time he needs to find himself in a goalscoring opportunity.”
Still, whatever the outcome of the game at the Etihad, Dzeko and Pjanic know that both life, and their friendship, will go on.