If the art of being a good striker is all about timing, then no one can fault Edin Dzeko right now. The Manchester City forward was on a run of nine appearances (five as a substitute) without a goal as the winter transfer window loomed, and he even conceded that a return to the Bundesliga, from where City signed him two years ago, was a possibility this month.
But then Sergio Aguero got injured, and City coach Roberto Mancini picked Dzeko ahead of Mario Balotelli for a match at Norwich. Within four minutes, Dzeko had scored twice, which was just as well, as City ended up clinging on to a 4-3 win. Against Arsenal last Sunday, his movement in the box forced Laurent Koscielny into the rugby-tackle that saw him sent off.
Though Dzeko missed the subsequent penalty (supporting one of Arsene Wenger's theories that if you win a penalty, you should not then take it), he scored City's second in its routine 2-0 win. Dzeko does not have the indiscipline of Balotelli, nor the dangerous streak of Tevez, but he has an inner toughness.
All three strikers are products of their upbringing. Balotelli lived in a tiny flat and struggled with intestinal problems before social services recommended a family (the Balotellis) foster him; Tevez fought against a life of poverty and crime in Fort Apache in Argentina; Dzeko was a victim of the Balkan conflict. His house was destroyed, and 15 members of his family had to move into his grandparents' tiny flat, which measured 35 square meters.
"It was terrible," he said. "It was a hard time for everyone in the country. There wasn't much to eat, not really enough for three meals a day," he told Bosnian paper Dnevni Avaz. "I was very afraid every day. We were always having to hide when shots rang out or bombs fell. You could get shot at any time. A lot of footballers start to play kicking a ball around in the street but for me that was impossible. I cried a lot in those days."
Dzeko had no money to buy football boots and practiced on a pitch with no grass in the summer and just mud and water during winter. He signed for Sarajevo side Zelejznicar aged 13, but the Bosnians were not able to get the best out of the tall forward who was quickly given the nickname, "Kloc," The Lamppost. He ended up moving to German side Wolfsburg, via Czech club Teplice, and scored 26 goals to help win the 2009 Bundesliga title.
He is now City's top scorer in the Premier League, with 10 goals (Sergio Aguero has eight, Tevez seven and Balotelli, just one). The idea that the club would sell him to Borussia Dortmund, as was suggested, now seems unlikely (not least because the arrival on loan of Nuri Sahin points to the German side experimenting with a Barcelona-type system with Marco Reus as a false nine).
And yet when Dzeko does start, it is usually because Aguero or Tevez is unavailable.
"It's not like the coach rotates everyone all the time," he told Dnevni List last week. "One of us is playing all the time, while the other three are being rotated."
He was also keen to shrug off claims that he is a super-sub, which is fair enough given that 23 of his 35 goals for the club have come as a starter: even if some of the most important (two against Manchester United in the 6-1 win, the crucial leveling goal in the title-winning game against QPR, two against West Brom to ensure a 2-1 win and the winner against Spurs this season) have come from the bench.
"People can say whatever they want, but I'm not a super-sub and I'll never be one," he said. "Sometimes the team doesn't play very well, or I don't play well because I lack continuity. It can happen and that's all part of football."
You never hear Aguero or Tevez talk about Dzeko, though; instead the Argentine pair, friends and golfing buddies off the pitch, talk of how much they love partnering with each other on it. At the end of last season, the Aguero-Tevez linkup played a big part in City's ultimate title success, but this season, Aguero-Dzeko or Tevez-Dzeko looks a more dangerous pairing.
The January window is ticking down, and though Dzeko claims that his future could lie away from Manchester, the Bosnian is now a more important player to City than he has ever been.