Thursday, 1 April 2010

Meditations on Dimitar Berbatov: in wake of Rooney's injury

The stats are what matters. And no - on behalf of Spurs fans accused of being fickle or bitter as followers of a feeder club (though perhaps Real Madrid and Barcelona are the only two purely fed clubs in the world), Berbatov was an incomparably frustrating player to watch at White Hart Lane. And after almost five years in the Premiership, the Bulgarian is still yet to perform consistently in consecutive seasons. Berbatov has scored 12 times in 27 Premiership appearances this season, many of which have been icing-on-the-cake goals: Manchester United are only one point better off with Berbatov's goals, a staggering and meaningful statistic.

Where an exquisite first touch is lovely on the eye, defending from the front (inconceivable for Berbatov) and prolific goalscoring (throughout his career, Berbatov has been prone to wasting good chances, especially in the air) are of greater importance, and this is true no matter what club, league or competition we're talking about. Berbatov was poetically and busily terrific in his second season at Tottenham Hotspur, but for much of his first and third seasons, he was an ineffective and disinterested burden on the football club. He would isolate himself in the warm-ups; if he was played, he would curse at his teammates (especially the youngsters) for passes that asked half a metre's movement; and when left on the bench, he would refuse to warm up. Many matches, Berbatov would barely move - on or off the ball - only to collect the biggest wage packet at the club. This is such a shame since he is capable of a brilliant change of pace that, even now he is playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, we rarely see. Robbie Keane (and the Tottenham coaching staff) bears a great deal of responsibility for making Dimitar Berbatov look such a wonderful forward, and visa versa. Neither have been the same player since their high-profile moves, two summers ago - or perhaps they have, but like lovers regretting a swift divorce, they haven't been able to cope apart.

To compare Berbatov to Cantona is funny really: Cantona was more than just a luxury forward, and he scored many more great goals than his 'successor'. Furthermore, taking centre-stage at The Theatre of Dreams (what a terrible nickname for a stadium), Cantona was so much more impassioned and charismatic a sports personality - quite the opposite to Berbatov. As for Berbatov's great goals; a wonderful run and finish against Charlton, and a thunderbolt from a tight angle at the Emirates, are all that come to mind, but maybe there's one or two I've forgotten. His beautifully crafted assists in the Premiership have been more memorable, but these are no more valuable than Bobby Zamora or Kevin Davies's weekly flick-ons in the box, and gawping fanboys of neat-touch-football are quick to forget this. Until the emergence of Tom Huddlestone, Michael Carrick was the United player Spurs have missed the most.
Taking into account all the different attributes that make a good Premiership striker, I've compiled a list of Premiership front men (besides Torres, Drogba, Rooney and Van Persie) just as effective as Berbatov, who would offer just as much substance in United colours (which is red, not green and gold; boycott and follow FC United if it means so much).
Nicolas Anelka, Eduardo, Louis Saha, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe, John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor, Darren Bent, Kenwyn Jones, Roque Santa Cruz, Bobby Zamora, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Hugo Rodallega, Kevin Davies and Craig Bellamy. That makes Berbatov a better-than-average Premiership striker, somewhere in the top twenty. This might be difficult to take for subscribers to the cliched panegyrics of Andy Gray, Jim Beglin, Alan Green and co, but take a deep breath. Now put Berbatov in that list, or give any one of those players Berbatov's no.9 shirt and a season beside Wayne Rooney, and look at that list again, and you'll see what I see: a good Premiership striker, nothing more, nothing less.

£30 million? Cheers Fergie. Now that Spurs possess several players who could hold down a place in a top four team (Gomes, Bale, Palacios, Huddlestone, Modric, Lennon, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe), I hope Ferguson will turn a blind eye this summer, doubting Spurs as a reliable feeder club, having not yet seen his money's worth from the £50 million he spent on Carrick and Berbatov.

It will be interesting to see how the dreamy sloth fares in the run-in - no doubt a pivotal month in his career. But for the moment, Dimitar Berbatov remains an example of why bandwagons are contagious and costly things, even for as magnificent a manager as Sir Alex Ferguson.

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