Zukanovic’s Long Climb to the Top

Albinko Hasic


Ervin Zukanovic is a man that prescribes to that old Bosnian notion that nothing worth going after should be rushed.  Patience in all aspects of life.  His football career certainly took a lot of patience to arrive at its current stop.  Looking at the Roma defender, nothing seems out of the ordinary.

 Just a normal steely-eyed defender, playing for one of the best clubs in Italy and donning a jersey with a rich history.  Nobody would ever guess how long and winding the road of his football career really was and the many stops he made on his journey there.


In football, and in other sports as well, perhaps nothing is more endearing than a feel-good Cinderella story.  A team made up of average Joes that over-perform past their perceived limit and collectively win.  We’ve seen it very recently in the 2015/2016 season with Leicester City.  On a personal level, an athlete seemingly coming out of nowhere to claim great honors. Even supposed neutral commentators and journalists become caught up in the excitement and in the story.  We all love a good story.

 Well, Bosnia’s Ervin Zukanovic knows a thing or two about overcoming great odds and telling a good story.  Growing up in Sarajevo, the 29-year-old shared the same streets that Edin Dzeko called home, in a besieged city.  Playing youth football wasn’t always easy.  But then again people like Zukanovic overcome even the gravest dangers in pursuit of what they truly love.  For him it just happened to be football.



Zukanovic started his youth football career with local clubs Bubamara and FK Zeljeznicar, the same club that produced Dzeko and other Bosnian players like Edin Visca.  Graduating from its ranks he made a jump to the senior side, but shortly thereafter made his escape into Europe by signing for Austrian second tier club Austria Lustenau II in 2006.  Ten years later he finds himself at a Champions League side.

For neutral observers, signing for an Austrian second leaguer seems ordinary.  It almost seems laughable.  A second tier Austian side?  For Zukanovic, it was civilization.  When one considers the quality of football in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s domestic flight (especially during that time), as well as the infrastructure and pitches that house it, things come into focus.  Consider the fact that a vast majority of Bosnian players do not even make a career for themselves in Bosnia, let alone transfer out of the country to a stronger club in Europe.  Zukanovic was one of the few that found a way.

He bounced around various sides for a couple of years, everything from going back to the muddy pitches of Bosnia, to 4th level football in Germany, after finally landing in Belgium.  Signing with minnows Dender in 2009, Zukanovic made a reputation for himself as a tough, no nonsense defender with an added special ability – a mean boot for some fantastic free kick goals.  Like a mountaineer, Zukanovic used each new surrounding in Belgium, and eventually Italy, to grow as a professional and propel himself to even greater heights.



Climbing higher and higher in Belgium, he eventually landed at one of better sides, Gent, in 2013.  His performance there, along with his national team debut for Bosnia and Herzegovina allowed him to make the next step up to a top league, the Serie A.  Like all those previous times, Zukanovic used Chievo as a spring board by seizing the opportunity to its maximum effect.  Inter Milan soon came calling.  Instead, Zukanovic chose a lesser side, Sampdoria, saying it would be better for his career, long term.  Always the long term in mind.  Step by step.

 And so, in 2016 he joined his compatriots Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic at Roma.  No big deal.  Even a long journey can be enjoyable with some frequent breaks. Zukanovic certainly made his fair share of those.  Never rushed, never in a hurry.  That’s the way it should be when you chase something worth chasing after, like your dreams.

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