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Sep 16, 2009

Q&A with in-demand Wolfsburg star Edin Dzeko

Overachieving in this game is a dangerous accomplishment as only the chosen few are capable of living up to the unreasonable expectations that inevitably follow.

This may be the scenario for Wolfsburg and their star striker Edin Dzeko after he fired a stunning 36 goals in 42 games to help his side claim an unlikely Bundesliga triumph back in May, prompting predictable interest from AC Milan and a host of other major European clubs.

At the age of 23, Bosnian international Dzeko was the first to admit the idea of plying his trade alongside Ronaldinho and Co. at the San Siro every week had great appeal, yet his desire to walk away from the Wolves was quashed as the club refused to contemplate the proposed €30 million (£27 million) transfer.

In a summer when Wolfsburg had already lost the services of inspirational coach Felix Magath to Schalke 04, the prospect of seeing their other prized asset follow him out of the exit door could not be considered, so a bumper wage increase and a contract extension was duly agreed with Dzeko.

A few weeks on and the striker has every right to question whether his decision to commit to Wolfsburg was entirely wise, with new coach Armin Veh hardly winning over his doubters after a start to the season that has seen the champions lose their aura all too quickly.

Two wins to open the campaign were followed by thumping defeats against Hamburg and Bayern Munich, with Bayern Leverkusen adding to Wolfsburg's misery as they stormed the home of the champions and left with all three points in the last round of Bundesliga fixtures.

Throw in Dzeko's well-publicised training ground bust-up with Algerian international midfielder Karim Ziani and it adds up to a scenario that suggests the darling of the Wolfsburg faithful is struggling to justify his burgeoning reputation.

After so much unrest, Friday night's showdown with former boss Magath and his new Schalke side has taken on even greater significance for Dzeko, yet the striker seems calm as a storm threatens to whip up around him.

"It's easy for people to say I am not playing at my best because I wanted to leave for AC Milan this summer, but this is not the case," begins the striker, who has scored just once in his first five Bundesliga games this term.

"The trouble I had in the summer was not my desire to leave Wolfsburg, but the fact that AC Milan had come in for me. I had to be flattered as one of the biggest names in football wanted me and I have always had a soft spot for Milan. I had visions of wearing those famous red-and-black stripes and running out at the San Siro. I couldn't believe it. Here I am, still so young and I have the chance to play for the great Milan, the team of my hero Andriy Shevchenko. It took some time to sink in.

"Also, it's not every day someone says you are worth €30 million. When I was linked with other big clubs such as Arsenal, my reaction was to say I was too young and needed more time to develop in the Bundesliga, but after hearing about Milan's interest, I admit I wasn't so rational. You know, I wanted to live the dream."

Dzeko's honesty hardly papers over the cracks in his relationship with the Wolfsburg hoards and you do not have to read too far between the lines to appreciate he would rather have made his Champions League debut in an AC Milan shirt this week.

At the age of 23, it may be that Dzeko is better off spending another year developing at Wolfsburg before cashing in his chips with a major European club, yet he accepts the scramble for his signature will only start again if he continues his remarkable scoring form.

"You tend to wonder if that sort of opportunity will come up again and it only can happen if I continue to score goals," he continues. "I'm not a mega-star, only a young professional with only 18 months of experience in the Bundesliga, so I was never going to force the issue in a bid to leave Wolfsburg.

"I haven't forgotten what Wolfsburg have done for me. I was nobody when I arrived two years ago, so I'm certainly not ungrateful. Without this club, where would I be today? So I have no problem that I am still here at Wolfsburg. I have the chance to play in the Champions League and the ambition of this club cannot be questioned. What we achieved last season proves anything is possible."

The departure of coach Magath was always likely to be a savage blow and Dzeko concedes it will be strange to line up against his Schalke side on Friday night. "Our title success was the handiwork of the coach from start to finish," states Dzeko.

"He recruited the players, identified the best for his system, he trained us, made us fighting fit and taught us to believe in ourselves. We were a team built in his image, hardly ever became discouraged and always kept going until the final whistle. This coach is a winner and so were we.

"In addition, Magath helped me improve in every way. It was not so long ago that he told me I was spending too much time outside the box and he also advised me to work harder on my heading.

"Of course we will miss Magath, but our new coach has impressed me, especially with his human qualities. During the Milan affair, he was straight as well as persuasive with me. He convinced me that my time at Wolfsburg had not reached its natural end and that I still had much to prove.

"It has to be good that he wants to play attractive, attacking football and it's worth noting that he has already won the Bundesliga (with Stuttgart back in 2006-07). That achievement speaks for itself."

The notion of Wolfsburg defending their Bundesliga crown already seems fanciful after three straight defeats, but Dzeko is in defiant mood as his team prepare to face Magath and Schalke, live on ESPN.

"We know it will take an almighty effort to retain our Bundesliga title, but don't write us off as we have a special character in this team," he concludes. "A place in the top four is a must and we'd sign right now to still be in the Champions League next spring. The overall aim is to prove we're not one-season wonders and to achieve this, we have to stay as humble and focused as we were last year."

If Wolfsburg's miserable month is to come to an end, they need their star turn to show his class all over again. The moment has come for the real Edin Dzeko to stand up.

Schalke 04 v Wolfsburg is live on ESPN (UK) this Friday at 7.30pm BST.

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