The Strange Case of Dzeko and Hyde

By David Mooney, Fri 24 February 2012 09:03

The Strange Case of Dzeko and Hyde

In the mid 1880s, a Scottish poet and author – who shares my birthday, incidentally – wrote a novella about a man with split personalities. It was the tale of a man who was very good when he was good, but very bad when he was bad. This man went from one extreme to the other and it was a mystery to those around him what was going on. Though despite being written a mere 126 years ago, it told a prophecy of something that was coming to Manchester in the year 2011. And, in this story, all that Robert Louis Stevenson got wrong was the name: It should have been called The Strange Case of Dzeko and Hyde.

And I don't mean that to sound harsh, because it really isn't. I like Edin Dzeko and I think he's one of the best strikers in the Premier League, however from his year-and-a-bit at City, the one thing that has become clear is that he's either totally unplayable or completely playable. He doesn't really have any distinctly average games: He's either great and could bag a few goals or off the pace and can't trap the ball.

His debut, against Wolves in January 2011, showed he had a bit about him. Despite looking a bit rusty, he displayed one or two moments of good ball control and an eye for a pass, epitomised by his role in Yaya Toure's fantastic breakaway goal and a piece of skill to keep possession mid-way into the opposition half, when under pressure from three defenders and with no support. There followed a difficult day at Villa Park, before his first goal away at Notts County – perhaps one of the most important goals scored last season, keeping City in the FA Cup.

But after that game, he struggled for form. Domestically, he was struggling with the pace of the Premier League. Naturally, a large part of that has to go down to him being a January signing; traditionally, those players signed in the winter window from overseas do find it more difficult to settle into a squad and find their feet. But there was always that nagging doubt in the back of my mind, at least: What if he wasn't worth the money that had been paid for him? What if he couldn't cut it in England?

February arrived and he forced the equaliser in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, firing a shot so far wide that it bounced neatly off David Silva's pert left buttock and dropped snugly inside Van Der Sar's post. It went down as a goal for the Spaniard and it was certainly heading nearer to the corner flag than the net when it left Mr. Hyde's boot.

Through March and April, Mr. Hyde continued to wear the blue shirt. He was completely ineffective – admittedly not the only poor performer and he had a lack of any real support up front – during tough games at Stamford Bridge and Anfield, while the important games in the later stages of the FA Cup or push for Champions League football saw him mainly used as a late substitute or remain on the bench throughout.

It was only really when the pressure was off towards the end of last season – fourth spot was in the bag and the FA Cup was in the trophy cabinet – when Dr. Dzeko turned up. Perhaps it was a slow build up from his first Premier League goal, when he netted at Ewood Park in the last game in April, that he started to find his confidence. And that, personally speaking, I think is crucial: If there's one thing that Edin Dzeko screams it's that he scores when he's in a confident mood; when things are going his way and when he's been scoring regularly.

Clearly, his confidence came back over the summer. Combined with a pre-season training schedule with his new team-mates, he started off the 2011-12 season where he finished the last. In fact, the final goal of last season came from the Bosnian's boot and he was the source of the first goal of this season. Throw the Community Shield in there and Dzeko had eight goals in five games.

And what happened next is key to why Mr. Hyde returned in September: Despite scoring four goals at White Hart Lane, Dzeko was an unused substitute for the next match, at home to Wigan. Now, many will say that it won't have too much of an effect (he's a professional and must have been feeling good), but he was in form and everything he was doing was coming off, usually resulting in a goal. After that demotion to the bench – for no reason other than squad rotation – Mr. Hyde didn't score again for a month and a half.

But, while I've just inferred there that Roberto Mancini's management style hasn't helped the striker, the Italian did pull off a masterstroke in getting Dzeko back on a patch of good form. With precisely just a bit more than 20 minutes of the Manchester derby to go, United were still chasing the game, despite the (then) 0-3 scoreline and the manager knew there were more goals to be had. Looking at his bench, he knew that Dzeko needed to get on the scoresheet; he made the swap for Balotelli, even though he was on a hat-trick.

And, as the game entered stoppage time and the Bosnian had missed a couple of good shooting opportunities, the ball bounced in off Dzeko's knee. He was a changed man, once again: a second goal quickly followed, before he netted against Wolves twice in two games and then again at Loftus Road.

But, after that good performance at QPR, he was, once again, an unused substitute against Newcastle. And his goal in City's 2-3 victory in London was the last that he scored until the trip to the DW stadium in January, over two months later. Through November and December, the ball bounced further off his foot when he tried to control it than it did when he tried to pass it, he couldn't win a header and even his work ethic seemed to go missing. Mr. Hyde was back.

His header at Wigan, though, was exactly what he needed. Hard work won him a free kick on the left flank and a brilliant ball in from Silva gave him little work to do to find the net. And, just like after Ewood Park and Old Trafford, his confidence was back. He converted at Anfield, slotted one in against Fulham and came off the bench to seal a Europa League last 16 place.

From his year-and-a-bit at City, I'm no longer worried that Edin Dzeko hasn't been worth his money. He has. He's scored some great goals, some decent goals, some average goals and some tap-ins. Performance wise, he's had some real stinkers and he's had some real stormers. He's bagged himself 16 goals in all competitions so far this season, so it's obvious he's no flop; but it appears he struggles with the rotation policy at the club.

It's very easy to get on a player's back when he's not playing well – and, Christ, City fans know that – but Dzeko definitely doesn't need that when he's not in form. He just needs that little bit of luck. Right now, he's in one of his good patches, but that will probably come to an end. When it does, he needs the backing of the fans and not a constant, uneasy buzz or groan about the Etihad when he inadvertently blocks a goalbound effort or when he skies a one-on-one, because, sooner or later, another one of his goals will be crucial in this title run-in.

While it's The Strange Case of Dzeko and Hyde, we need to make sure that the Mr. Hyde side of him is rarely seen – because, as Stevenson's story goes, the bad side can be repressed. And let's face it, his 16 goals have been crucial in firing the team to the top of the league, smashing records along the way. We know what he can do, he knows what he can do; we just need to back him when he's struggling to do it.