Dimitar Berbatov. Wherever his name is mentioned; whether it be at a football game, in a pub or as part of a back water football blog you’ll find the same two words appearing time and time again. These words encapsulate the unfortunate but increasingly narrow viewpoint of the average football ‘punter‘. These words are thrown around, not just by the fans but by the tabloids, whose increasing credibility still manages to amaze me.
One, said in hushed tones – normally by the ‘old school’ geriatric in the corner settling into his third pint of the afternoon whilst the other, normally aired by a trendy twenty-something student is greeted by cheers of approval and said with such brashness and aplomb that it would make that ‘great wordsmith’ David Cameron weep into his sippy-cup with jealousy.
Obviously the game in question that has reignited the debate on the Bulgarian superstar was Manchester United’s home win against Liverpool in the English Premier League. A debate that as yet has never been well and truly settled. Bought in the dying minutes of the August Transfer Deadline Day, 27-year old Berbatov appeared to many as Sir Alex’s ‘fallback’ striker after missing out on France’s Karim Benzema and Valencia icon David Villa, add to that the heady price tag, rumoured to be around the £30m mark (though who knows with these bloody ‘Undisclosed‘ fees) he didn’t come cheap.
Berbatov’s sublime hat-trick caused another stampede of pundits, managers and ex-footballers to start praising his ‘undeniable talent’, ‘killer instinct’ and ‘world-class touch‘ making use of one of the words often associated only with the true greats of football. You ask one hundred people to describe Cruyff, Maradona or Philip Neville in one word and I guarantee you, top of the chart’s Family Fortune’s style with 99 votes will be Genius (OK maybe not Phil Neville, the one word we got for him is unprintable) but you get the idea.
To be fair watching Berbatov’s finishing, off the ball movement and tactical awareness was like observing the seagull watching, no.7 wearing, enigmatic Frenchman reincarnate. His open disdain for effort, sweat and sprinting has been as well publicised as Paris Hilton’s need for yet another BFF, and yet a flash of technique and purpose and he is being heralded as the next Dennis Bergkamp. Alan Shearer, whose true legendary exploits for Newcastle and England has won him so much affection in the heart of the common man, has apparently set his mind to self destruct whenever he’s put in front of a camera, has begun to epitomize all that is wrong with the twenty pence punditry the normally faithful BBC has begun to serve up on a Saturday night.
For the last six months the calls for Fergie to sign up a striker with real ‘work ethic‘ and consistency had been growing in proportion to Ricky Hatton’s double chin and yet the Ol’ Scotsman stuck with him. Whilst BBC pundits and Radio phone-ins had been bemoaning United’s need for a clinical striker to play off of Rooney, Sir Alex had quietly stuck by the Bulgarian, firmly rebuffing all other interests while the average fan was wondering why he didn’t just offload him for £20m and pick up a hard working striker like, I don’t know, Kevin Davies?
It’s this fickle attitude towards Berbatov which caused me to address the situation in this blog. It’s worth saying I’m a Liverpool fan and believe me when I say it hurts seeing this ‘genius‘ rip Liverpool’s defence apart like a 8-year old girl opening up the newest Hannah Montana box-set for Christmas. I’m not criticising those who call Dimitar Berbatov a genius, I have no problem with it, in fact I join in with them and their inebriated football banter but what worries me is the commentators and pundits who join in with the World-Class comments and Genius superlatives after one game and yet are the first to shout him down after a poor performance in a 0-0 draw with Wolves. All of a sudden Berbatov is “not suited to the English game” (despite scoring 61 goals in 162 games) and “will never win the fans round without showing some graft“.
So after the calls of Genius have been quietened by two average performances we are left with the more common and to be honest more familiar label of ‘lazy‘ attached to any striker that isn’t the English brute Davies or the couldn’t-be-less-Dutch-if-he-tried Dirk Kuyt. The old cliches and stereotypes are raised again of Eastern Europeans forwards being flippant, scatty and prone to a lack of concentration and unless you are willing to run yourself so far into the ground you end up in Shane Warne’s living room your not ‘committed to the club’. Suddenly the Scouse beating, hat-trick hero of yesterday is a lazy, ineffective and over priced mercenary whose lack of consistency is as blatant as Jimmy Hill’s chin.
And so, the debate will rage on time in memoriam. The argument of style over substance, genius over graft, Kuyt over Cantona? For me, Berbatov is a genius. A player capable of the rarest of touches, the most arrogant of manoeuvres and an open disdain for anything other that the spectacular and speculative. A match winner who, you take the “lack of graft” with the smooth for games as wonderful (from a Manc p.o.v) as Sunday’s.
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