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Is it Time for Roma to Move On from Edin Dzeko?

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Not an easy question to answer.

Udinese v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

The day will come when Edin Dzeko is no longer a Roma player, and whether re-ups with Roma on a cut rate deal to see out the end of his career, signs on the dotted line with a midtable Premiership club, or simply packs his bags and heads back to Bosnia, when all is said and done I'm not sure we'll ever see a Roma run as strange as his. As far as CdT is concerned, we've never tracked a player's Roma career with as much gusto as Dzeko's. You may remember our #DareToDzeko campaign from the summer of 2015, which, yes, started as a tongue in cheek nod towards the confluence of the #DareToZlatan social media campaign and the notion that Zlatan Ibrahimovic wanted to (at long last) play alongside Francesco Totti, but it soon took on a life of its own.

Starting as early as April of 2015, when rumors of a Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic pairing started making the rounds, we latched onto this story like a baby koala on its mother's back. All told, we dedicated 23 stories to the Dzeko transfer saga between April and August, including one in which we asked who would be more effective as Roma's number nine: Dzeko, Seydou Doumbia or Ciro Immobile, as well as the odd twist in which Dzeko appeared to be negotiating with City himself, pleading with them to lower their demands so Roma could actually afford him.

Covering transfer rumors is part and parcel of what we do here, and it's actually how I found this site to begin with, but given the pacing of that coverage, I was quite relieved when they published the always awkward thumbs-up-stress-echo-cardiogram photo, meaning the transfer was signed, sealed and delivered on August 12, 2015.

Not only did Roma manage to land their first real number nine since Luca Toni's brief stop in town, but they finally found a goal scorer worthy of Francesco Totti's ethereal playmaking skills, and they united him with his best footballing friend, Miralem Pjanic. In nearly every shape and form, this seemed like a perfect transfer. Sure, Dzeko was no longer in his prime, but thanks to those circumstances, he seemingly found the perfect landing spot from which to rebound his career.

And then the season began. Dzeko's Roma career started off rather benignly, with 90 mostly muted minutes sandwiched in between Gervinho and Mohamed Salah (my how times change), but he delivered on all that #DareToDzeko promise the very next week, scoring an eventual match winner in the 79th minute against Juventus. On the road. Yes, that actually happened, Roma beat Juventus on the road. {My bad, I got excited. It was at home}

However, what seemed like an auspicious start was anything but—Dzeko would only muster seven additional goals throughout the remainder of the 2015-2016 season, finding himself on the outside looking in once Luciano Spalletti came to town and ushered in the latest version of his vaunted false nine featuring Salah and the newly acquired Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy. Spalletti had to make a quick change to turn Roma around, and Dzeko was just a victim of circumstance that spring.

Dzeko would rebound in a major way the following season, scoring 39 goals in all competitions and capturing the 2016-2017 capocannoniere in the process. This was peak of Dzeko's career and he seemed like the center piece of an attack that could finally oust Juventus off her Serie A perch, but things haven't exactly gone according to plan since then.

While Dzeko followed up that absurd season with a solid 2017-2018 campaign—24 goals in all competitions—his performance this season has led some to question how much longer Dzeko should lead Roma's line. In addition to battling injuries, Dzeko hasn't been able to hit the broadside of a barn this season, scoring only four goals in 17 appearances, half of which came last week against Atalanta, his first league strikes since October.

I've been pondering writing this piece for a few weeks now, but his recent explosion against Atalanta sort of gave me pause. Not only because he seemed to break out of his funk, but Dzeko profiled as the sort of player who would age well, using his body and positioning to extend his career well into his mid 30s like Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose before him, so I was hesitant to even broach the subject, but Dzeko simply hasn't passed the eye test this season, so the debate about his future has been percolating in the background.

As far as I see it there are two main arguments for his removal, and considering how torn I am, I'm going to argue both sides! It's spin doctoring at its finest, my friends.

Argument #1: Production Problems

Atalanta BC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Point: He's Declining, Dude.

From his career high 29 league goals two seasons ago, to his respectable but still slipping 16 last season to his nadir of four through 17 matches this year, Dzeko's most immediate and marketable skill seems to be on the decline. Furthermore, his shot production, both in terms of total volume and on-target attempts, has declined in each of the past three seasons. Additionally, the quasi-confluence of those two statistics, conversion rate, has seen similar declines, slipping from 16% to a shade over 10% all the way down to 5% this year.

Any way you slice it, Dzeko's shooting less, shooting more erratically and with decreasing efficiency. While his ability to hold up play is all while and good, you pay strikers to score, or at the very least threaten to score, and Dzeko has provided diminishing returns in that regard. He's gotta go.

Counterpoint: You Don't Know Numbers, Friend.

First off, expecting Dzeko to repeat the dizzying heights of his capocannoniere season was always unfair. Scoring 24 goals and chipping in six assists in all competitions the following year was a phenomenal return by normal standards; he still led the club in scoring and finished sixth league wide, so let's keep some perspective, shall we?

While I cannot deny that his actual goal production has dropped off this season, the underlying statistics don't show a discernible or alarming trend (at least not yet), and actually point towards a player who is as involved as ever in attacking play. Dzeko's per 90 figures in the following categories are actually higher this season than last:

  • expected shots
  • expected goals
  • expected assists
  • expected chain (which measures the expected goals of every possession the player is involved in)
  • expected buildup (basically chain minus Dzeko's own shots and key passes)

Dzeko is under-performing his expected goal total by nearly four this season, there is no taking the stink off of that, but those somewhat esoteric underlying numbers show that he's doing as much dirty work as he did last season, he's just suffering from poor conversion and, let's face it, some poor service.

Last season, 23% of Dzeko's shots came from outside of the box, a figure that has climbed north of 30% this season. Granted, this is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario with respect to the service he's receiving from the midfield and wings, but even if we assign the blame equally, the chain and buildup numbers show that Dzeko is, at the very least, contributing as much to the buildup, to the threat of an attack, as he did last year.

All of which is to say, yeah, he’s not as good as he was two years ago, but his dip in goals this season isn't as damning of an assessment as it might seem on the surface. He can still contribute, keep him around.

Argument #2: Patrik Problems

Udinese v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Point: Make Way for the Future

If you'll allow me to break the fourth wall for a moment here, this argument is far, far more subjective than our first point, but Patrik Schick, by virtue of talent and cost alone, warrants a shot as Roma's lead dog. Roma has €42 million reasons to make the most out of Schick's talent, and keeping him on the periphery—only 2,000ish minutes in all comps the past 18 months—is just bad business.

While we can argue about Schick's true position, there is no debating it: Dzeko's presence is hampering his development. Given EDF's tactics, the Dzeko-Schick equation has for the most part been a zero-sum game. They've shared the pitch intermittently over the past season and a half, but Dzeko has played nearly twice as much as Schick since the start of last season across all competitions. So, for EDF, it's either Dzeko or Schick and never the twain shall meet.

But back to my original point: The difference between the two, at least this season, has been negligible...

Edin Dzeko vs Patrick Schick, 2018-2019
Understat

Even if you throw away all the other considerations (age, salary, athleticism, investment), Roma won't suffer from an immediate switch at center forward. Plus, Schick still has the chance to improve (his underlying expected numbers in several areas are actually better than his breakout Samp season), whereas Dzeko's numbers are bound to decline as he ages. Schick has to play at some point, it's as simple as that. To do otherwise would be pissing away €42 million; and I'm not sure if you're aware, but...uh...Roma can't do that.

Counterpoint: Maybe Schick Just Isn't That Good?

Schick was a revelation during his breakout season with Sampdoria two years ago, but even that wasn't that great, at least not to the point where Roma should have broken the bank on another of Juve's wasted transfers.

Sure, he scored 11 goals but there was some measure of luck and/or unsustainability involved; those 11 goals were nearly double his expected goal haul of 5.7. While expected goals isn't the only statistic by which a striker should be measured, it's the most reliable measure available for free, public consumption, and Schick hasn't yet approached that meager total since arriving in Rome.

Schick should be given every opportunity to succeed, but let's not pretend he's been a world beater; Roma shouldn't push aside a proven goal scorer, and the 8th leading scorer in club history, so hastily, especially not when European qualification hangs in the balance.

He'll have his time, but for now he hasn't done enough to unseat Dzeko.

Conclusions

Nothing with Roma is cut and dry. From transfers to player salaries to stadium construction to even the simple font on their kits, there is nothing...and I mean nothing...Roma related that won't cause a controversy. However, by nearly any measure, Edin Dzeko has been among the best bits of business Roma has ever conducted: €15 million for 82 goals (including 23 in Europe) is a bargain in any market.

Still, we live in a what have you done for me lately world, and lately Dzeko hasn't been up to snuff. And while he only has one year remaining on his deal, given their history of co-habitation, we have to wonder how EDF would manage the rotation next season. Another year of feeding Schick table scraps isn't an opportunity cost Roma can really afford.

But, and as we outlined above, Dzeko is literally one of the best striker's this club has ever had, and with every point on the table precious, Roma needs all the punch in front of goal they can afford, even if it's from a 32-year-old lumbering number nine on the decline.

With arguments to be made on either side, I'm turning it over to you, what should Roma do with Dzeko?

Poll

Should Roma move on from Edin Dzeko?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Yes
    (253 votes)
  • 42%
    No
    (239 votes)
  • 11%
    I'm an undecided voter, help me!
    (64 votes)
556 votes total Vote Now