He had been stacking plastic-wrapped cases of Red Bull into a corner of Europa Market, the store on Gravois Avenue where he works. He had moved quickly and efficiently, because soon he would need to move the box truck he had parked in the lot of the restaurant next door.
But for this topic, this name, the young man could spare some time.
“I’m a big fan,” Muhamed Ademovic said.
Ademovic, a 25-year-old who came to America when he was 12, rested an arm on the stack of energy drinks and spent the next 15 minutes explaining the importance of Edin Džeko.
“To make it from your home country to become a big star like he is, that’s big,” Ademovic said. “That’s really big.”
For those who block soccer from their sports consumption — an act that is becoming increasingly more difficult as the world’s favorite sport continues to bleed into mainstream America — a mention of Džeko means nothing.
For dedicated soccer fans — like those who, in just minutes on an April morning, purchased all available tickets for Thursday’s exhibition game between Manchester City and Chelsea at Busch Stadium — Džeko is a Manchester City striker whose sniper-like shooting makes him one of the most dangerous scorers on one of the Premier League’s best teams.
But for Ademovic and thousands of other Bosnians living in St. Louis, Džeko is more. In a region estimated to have as many as 70,000 Bosnians (the largest population other than Bosnia itself), the man nicknamed “The Bosnian Diamond” is an icon who overcame the obstacles of a war-torn country, a man whose success stirs strong feelings of national pride.
Džeko, 27, was born in Sarajevo in 1986. The city was dangerous when he was a child, a result of the Bosnian War, which lasted nearly four years following the dismantling of the old Yugoslavia.
“I was 6 when the war started,” Džeko once told Sports Illustrated. “It was terrible. My house was destroyed, so we went to live with my grandparents. The whole family was there, maybe 15 people all staying in an apartment about 35 meters square. It was very hard. We were stressed every day in case somebody we knew died.”
Džeko persevered. He outlasted the violence, and paid his soccer dues by bouncing between smaller professional teams in Europe. He slowly built a reputation as one of the game’s best scorers, recognition that earned him a lofty contract with Manchester City in 2011. He also plays for his country. Since 2007, he has scored 28 goals for Bosnia.
“He is the guy right now for the Bosnian national team,” Bill McDermott, a St. Louis soccer analyst, said.
McDermott can rattle off what makes Džeko good. He explains how the player is relentless in his pursuit of goals, how he attacks the net with quick shots and hard drives.
Ademovic, however, mentions something else.
“He played with his whole heart,” Ademovic said. “That’s why he survived it. He made it. Over there, it’s like nothing. Either you make it, or you don’t. He is the one who actually made it to be a big star. I’m proud of him.”
Twelve years ago, Ademovic’s parents moved his family from Srebrenica, Bosnia, to St. Louis. He played soccer in middle school and high school. His mother worked in an office, and his father had a construction job. But when he was 17, his parents decided to move back to Bosnia. Ademovic went with them, but returned alone soon after.
“This is home,” he said.
He has since married his childhood crush. The couple has a 5-month-old son. Now, his idea of success is providing for his family. He works more, and misses out on most of the neighborhood’s pickup soccer games.
Still, he tracks Džeko. He streams games online and watches DVR replays with his baby boy after work. Back in 2011, he made a trip to Atlanta to see Džeko play in person. The Bosnian national team lost that exhibition game to Mexico, 2-0. It didn’t matter.
“We lost,” Ademovic said. “But a game is a game.”
He wishes he could have the experience again at Busch Stadium on Thursday. He, like McDermott, understands the electricity Džeko will create — especially in a stadium filled with every Bosnian who bought a ticket in time.
“If he happens to score a goal Thursday night … oh, my God,” McDermott said. “It will be thunderous. It will be absolutely thunderous. There are going to be Bosnians who go down to Busch Stadium who do not have a ticket, know they can’t get a ticket, but just want to be in the vicinity of the event because he is going to be there.”
Instead of being there, Ademovic will be here at Europa Market. He will stack cases of Red Bull, move a truck, or do whatever else is needed around the store.
If he’s lucky, his boss will let him take a break, and he will walk to the restaurant next door. There, the soccer game will be on TV. Ademovic will watch and cheer for Džeko, as he always has and always will.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred). Contact him at email@example.com.