Shearer and Sutton, Torres and Villa, Butch and Sundance, Cheech & Chong...the list goes on. Deadly partnerships all, but few can confidently boast a record to match that of Bundesliga champions-elect Wolfsburg’s Bosnian-Brazilian duo; Edin Dzeko and Grafite.
4-5-1 or a fluid 4-3-3 has become the football formation de rigeur, so genuinely successful scoring partnerships are now few and far between. This pair, however, have bucked that particular trend spectacularly. With 51 league goals between them, they each share their place in the higher echelons of the prestigious ESM Golden Shoe rankings with names illustrious as Samuel Eto’o, David Villa, Diego Forlan and, er, Marc Janko (who leads the list courtesy of his 39-goal haul in the Austrian Bundesliga). Their veritable hatful-and-a-half of goals has been the primary force behind the Wolves’ charge to within a point of the first Bundesliga title in their previously unassuming history.
On Saturday afternoon, the club financed by Volkswagen’s millions and led by authoritarian head coach Felix Magath will host beaten UEFA Cup finalists, Werder Bremen. They need only a draw to ensure German football supremacy ahead of fellow contenders Bayern Munich and VfB Stuttgart – who meet one another at the Allianz-Arena knowing only a win allied to a Wolfsburg defeat will do.
That Wolfsburg are still in pole position at the denouement of Europe’s most open and exciting title race comes as something of a surprise to those who expected Bayern’s big names to undergo a late-season resurgence. For all the merits of Italian internationals Cristian Zaccardo (who has, in fact, featured little) and Andrea Barzagli, in-form Swiss ‘keeper Diego Benaglio, and impassable Brazilian midfield patroller Josue, it is with free-scoring strikers Dzeko and Grafite that the plaudits must mostly lie.
Burly forward Grafite (disappointingly pronounced ‘graff-eetch’, rather than ‘grafitti’ or even ‘graphite’) had, prior to this season been something of a peripatetic journeyman. The 30-year-old moved to the Volkswagen Arena from Le Mans for a modest fee of £5m, with spells at Sao Paulo and, more obliquely, Anyang LG Cheetahs of South Korea’s K-League filling out his sparse CV. Few could have predicted the man with just one cap and one goal for the Brazilian Seleção would have set alight one of Europe’s top leagues with goals such as this stonker in April’s spectacular 5-1 dismantling of Bayern. In that game, ex-Bayern boss Magath enjoyed twisting the knife by needlessly substituting his ‘keeper Benaglio with just minutes to play. To conclude that the Wolves’ boss – who heads for Schalke this summer – would ‘love it, just love it’ if his current side could hold off the all-conquering Bavarian powerhouse for 90 minutes longer would be a fair assessment.
While Magath’s Brazilian import has, in part, relied on his penalty-spot prowess to boost an already impressive goals total, his strike-partner Dzeko’s 25 league goals have come entirely from open play. Of the two, it is the 23-year-old Sarajevan who has drawn the most admiring glances from Europe’s top clubs. His stunning second half of the season has culminated, during the past fortnight, in a pair of clinically-taken hat-tricks against Hanover and Hoffenheim – whose own Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic led the scoring charts pre-Christmas only to suffer a season-ending injury. The Balkan nation lie second, behind European champions Spain, in their World Cup qualifying group. They sit ahead of both Turkey and fast-improving Belgium, and the goals of Ibisevic and Dzeko (the top scorer in qualifying to date) could well make the young nation a surprise package in South Africa next summer.
At Wolfsburg, master-marksman Dzeko has been fed the bullets time and time again by the “sharpest passer in central Europe” (at least according to Bundesliga expert Rapha Honigstein); playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic – also a Bosnian, though Munich-born. It is the exceptional success of this particular on-field alliance which has elevated Dzeko to the status as one of Europe’s hottest properties. Arsenal, Chelsea and a host of Serie A’s leading lights have been touted as possible destinations for the lethal frontman. In a way, it would be a shame – though entirely predictable – for the Wolves’ wunderteam to be dismantled with next season’s Champions League on the near horizon. Yet with Magath’s departure will come the vultures ready to pick off the stars of this remarkable season.
Wolfsburg’s squad, for now, will have thoughts of next year firmly stricken from their minds by tough taskmaster Magath. They now have a golden opportunity to etch the club’s name into football lore for reasons other than having had, to the amused delight of many, a manager named Wolfgang Wolf. They may not grace the Volkswagen Arena for much longer; but the scene is set, much like Butch and Sundance, for Wolfsburg’s deadly duo to go out in a blaze of glory.