New Impact arrival Blerim Dzemaili: "I really want to win something"

MONTREAL – Blerim Dzemaili, the Montreal Impact's newest signing, arrived in town ready to help his club take two steps further than they did last year.

Given that the Impact reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, that means Dzemaili is aiming for nothing short of history.

“I’m ready to win MLS (Cup); that’s why I’m here; that’s why I wanted to come,” the Swiss international midfielder said Thursday in his introductory press conference at the Impact’s training facility. “I really want to win something and I’m sure we have the quality and we can do something big here. This is why I choose to come now.”

The 31-year-old Dzemaili, who joins Argentine playmaker Ignacio Piatti in occupying a Designated Player spot on the Impact roster, had already agreed to the two-year loan deal from Bologna last summer, spending the 2016-17 season with the Serie A side – which is also owned by Montreal president and owner Joey Saputo.

Saputo, also speaking at the news conference, said he arranged with Bologna for Dzemaili to miss the last three games of the Serie A calendar so that he could join the Impact before the MLS primary transfer window closed on May 8, instead of later in July when the window reopened as was the plan initially. The early release was made easier by the fact that Bologna, who currently sit in 15th place, managed to guarantee their safety from the relegation zone ahead of time.

What was most unexpected for Saputo and the Impact was just how successful Dzemaili managed to be with Bologna. The midfielder scored a career-best nine goals in 33 appearances in all competitions, good for second place on the team’s scoring rankings. Bologna’s technical staff led by head coach Roberto Donadoni – a former midfielder for the Italian national team, Milan, and later MetroStars in MLS – hoped to extend Dzemaili’s stay for longer than the previous one-year arrangement, but Dzemaili was committed to coming to Montreal.

“I remember after a game against Torino where he scored two goals and I told him, 'Hey, slow down a little bit, because you’re going to make my life a little more difficult,’” Saputo recalled with a big smile. “He did so well at Bologna that the fans there didn’t want to lose him.”

Dzemaili, who’s never lived outside Europe, said the decision to move across the Atlantic with his family was the biggest he’s ever had to make. But in only his third day in the city and with his new teammates – he arrived on Tuesday and trained for the first time Wednesday – he says that he already feels comfortable.

Conversant in five languages, including English and French, Dzemaili had already heard good things about Montreal and MLS from former Impact striker Marco Di Vaio, who’s currently a technical director at Bologna. He’s also a friend of former Philadelphia midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, the two having played together for nearly a decade with the Swiss national team.

Montreal coach Mauro Biello confirmed on Wednesday that Dzemaili will be available to play Saturday when the Impact host Columbus Crew SC.

What can fans expect from the midfielder?

“I’m a box-to-box player that needs to play both phases of play, to attack and defend,” Dzemaili said. “With the national team I play behind the striker and I could do that here too, it’s not a problem. I’m not a traditional No. 10, but I’m more a player that can help the team bring balance, so if I play in that role this is what I will bring.”