Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah were two of the most exciting players to play for Roma in the 2010s.
Both joined the club, initially on loan, from Premier League sides in the summer of 2015. Although their impacts in their debut seasons differed, they combined to stunning effect the year after.
The 2015-16 was challenging for Dzeko, who only managed eight goals in Serie A. Salah, in contrast, made an instant impact, outscoring all his new teammates with 14 league goals. Five of those came when Rudi Garcia was the head coach in the first half of the season, before new boss Luciano Spalletti inspired a further nine from him.
Spalletti’s second spell in charge of Roma had its fair share of Francesco Totti-related controversies. But the Tuscan coach would bring benefits to other attackers, particularly inspiring Dzeko and Salah.
How Dzeko and Salah thrived for Spalletti
The rewards came in the 2016-17 season, in which Dzeko broke the record for the highest number of goals scored by a Roma player in a single campaign with 39. That was not the only record those goals contributed to; coupled with Salah’s 19, they became just the second Roma duo ever to surpass 50 goals in a season.Embed from Getty Images
The precedent had been set by Pedro Manfredini and Francisco Lojacono in 1960-61, when they accounted for 53 goals. Dzeko and Salah surpassed them as Roma enjoyed their highest-scoring season of all time, largely thanks to the duo’s influence.
Perhaps it wasn’t appreciated enough at the time, especially with the lingering cloud of Totti’s treatment. But this season’s Champions League tie between Salah’s Liverpool and Dzeko’s Inter has provided a chance for reflection; the pair greeted each other warmly, with fellow former teammate Alisson Becker in the background, after the first leg.
Sharing Roma memories
From the footage, it was clear to see that the pair had struck up a rapport that still meant something to them, despite all they have achieved – especially Salah – since. With the way Roma have declined in the intervening years, it was easy to feel some sentimentality about what used to be, not so long ago.
Benefited by Spalletti’s 3-4-2-1 system, with Dzeko the pinnacle and Salah essentially in a free role that generally saw him on the right wing, each player got into goalscoring territory frequently. Their finishing improved from the previous year – in particular Dzeko’s, who almost quadrupled his goal output – making for a successful, settled partnership.
The stats of a successful partnership
Each player recorded plenty of assists too – 15 each, to be precise. Eight, so more than half, of Salah’s were for Dzeko, who returned the favour to the Egyptian three times. It followed on from four combinations from the previous season, meaning they ended their Roma partnership with a total of 15 goal combinations from 69 games together.
The only two players Dzeko combined with for more Roma goals than Salah in his career were Diego Perotti (18) and Stephan El Shaarawy (17). In both cases, he had longer to work with them (118 and 122 matches respectively), so his efficient partnership with Salah was the most thrilling within its timeframe.
Their effectiveness is even more remarkable looking back when reflecting on how they could have had more goals. Dzeko still missed big chances that season, as sometimes characterised his still-glittering Roma career (which ended with him in third place on the club’s all-time scoring charts). Salah, meanwhile, has reached another level entirely since moving to Liverpool, breaking the 20-goal barrier in each of his five seasons there so far.
But their 58 collective goals in 2016-17 were more than enough to set a Roma record. Sadly, it couldn’t quite get them over the line for a trophy.
The regret of what happened next and the importance of remembering the good times
And just like that, it was all over. Roma could not stand in Salah’s way when Liverpool activated his release clause to sign him in the summer of 2017. The money from his sale went into the club-record purchase of Patrik Schick, a striker who was ultimately incompatible with Dzeko.
The Bosnian himself remained reliable, enduring four more seasons in Rome and breaking the 100-goal landmark. He would never find a teammate with the same connection as Salah, though.
They would meet again the very next season, when Roma were edged by Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. Naturally, Dzeko and Salah scored four goals between them across both legs.
Five years on from their separation, both are Champions League-level players, while Roma as a club are not.
There are too many instances of what-might-have-been in Roma’s history to dwell with too many regrets. In many cases, reflections simply must be those of being grateful for what was had. And when Roma had Dzeko and Salah on song together, it was a recipe for enjoyment.
You can find plenty more articles on this website about AS Roma history and nostalgia.