Dimitar Berbatov is undoubtedly one of those players that has to be in the right mood to really turn it on, but when he does we all marvel at the brilliance of the man with more than a striking resemblance to Springfield’s Mr Burns. As the man himself stated, when he is enjoying himself on the football pitch, things really can happen. Encouragingly for Fulham fans, Berbatov wore a big smile on his face throughout his home debut and produced the kind of display we’ve seen from him many times before. If Martin Jol can keep him happy, fans of the West London club are in for a real treat.
It is an English cultural trait to rationalise a person’s motivation using only variables that we can see. Just think how often you hear irate voices around you, whether in the stands or at the pub, screaming furiously and foaming at the mouth simply because player X is not running enough without the ball. It stems from the days when English football was so technically deficient that characteristics such as ‘wanting it’ were enough to seperate individuals. As the game has developed, these so-called ideals have been watered down but they still remain in some quarters. So, while Wayne Rooney is going through his seasonal slump of form he is afforded sympathy because at least he is running himself into the ground (the fact that this is often aimless and wasting valuable energy is apparently not relevant). Whereas, seeing as Berbatov looks like he could light up a fat Cuban cigar whilst plucking the ball out of the air with the tip of his boot, it’s assumed he just doesn’t care if things are not quite clicking for him.
For those of us who appreciate his ridiculous abundance of talent, the languid style merely adds to the character. Always appearing casual and relaxed, it makes no difference at what angle the ball arrives to him due to his immaculate first touch. That trust in his ability means that he is always playing with his head up, so that he must be an absolute dream to play with. Irrespective of what level of the game you play at, there is nothing more frustrating than making a perfectly timed run, only for the man in possession to fail to spot it. You think twice before making that same run again and the domino effect is the team as a whole becomes less fluid and incisive. Whether you are a Premier League footballer or you turn out for your pub team on a Sunday with a stinking hangover, that same rule applies. But with the Bulgarian, players must know that he’ll pick them out. There was one moment during the weekend’s game where he was pointing and gesturing at teammates, highlighting a space to make a run into that not one of his teammates had seen. That ability to see something that others around cannot is reserved for those with the highest footballing intelligence, it is very Dennis Bergkamp-esque.
Tottenham fans retain a special fondness for Berbatov and rightly so, seeing as he was unplayable at times during his period at White Hart Lane. The partnership he formed with Robbie Keane was one of the most effective in the country at the time, and he brought a level of skill and unexpectedness that left the supporters in adoration. That his performances led to a £30m transfer to Manchester United was of little surprise to anyone.
His spell in Manchester is often described as a failure but that seems overly harsh. He was not a rip-roaring success by any means, otherwise he would still be there now, but he did have his moments. He shared the 2010-11 Premier League Golden Boot with former teammate Carlos Tevez and was named in the PFA Team of the Year alongside the Argentine. But that proved to be the highlight of his United career, as he was left out of the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona at the end of that season.
Unfortunately for Berbatov, he suffered from the famed ‘square peg in a round hole’ syndrome whilst at United. He was signed to provide an alternative to the existing attacking players within the squad, to be the much desired ‘plan B’ in football speak. Traditionally, United attack with speed using width to isolate defenders, which suits attackers either with pace or exceptional movement, however he has neither of these qualities. He was signed with the idea of changing to a more European style possession-based game, which would bring out the best in him. The change never really happened and he was outcast, not suited to the familiar United style of play that Sir Alex Ferguson reverted to.
We very nearly lost him for good to Italy, before he decided to reignite his relationship with Jol at Fulham and comically upset Fiorentina in the process. The Italian’s sporting director, Daniele Prade, was left raging and demanded compensation for travel expenses after a last minute change of mind meant Berbatov did not arrive in Italy as expected. Whilst La Viola were fuming, there was plenty of delight amongst Premier League fans at the realisation that he would continue to strut his stuff in this country. The league is undoubtedly a richer place for having him and if he stays smiling there will be plenty of happy faces around Craven Cottage to accompany him.