Thursday 2 October ~
Dimitar Berbatov ticks a lot of the boxes that annoy people about modern footballers. Top of this list being a summer filling the papers with come-and-get-me pleas, forcing the hand of Tottenham on a transfer to Manchester United that finally climaxed with him essentially being smuggled into Old Trafford on transfer deadline night. This behaviour doesn’t make him an upstanding man of morals but neither does it make him unique. So why is he the media fall-guy, while Gareth Barry, Robbie Keane, Andrei Arshavin, Robinho et al have been all but forgiven?
In Tuesday night’s damp squib of a Champions League game against Aalborg Berbatov scored his first two goals for his new club, but in doing this he illustrated the very problems that the media have with him, his celebrations of “breaking his United duck” highlighted in various papers for lacking any joy or emotion. In a time when loyalty is so rare, a clenched fist or over the top scream of joy is enough for most fans and pundits to believe a player cares.
Berbatov, a languid, morose and seemingly lethargic forward, whose game is all about time and space rather than outward passion and lung busting effort, is the opposite of Robbie Keane, who a Liverpool-supporting friend recently described to me as “trying too hard to impress” after another disappointing performance. It is this kind of attitude that led Terry Venables to recently use his column in the Sun to blame Berbatov – “and your dream of a few extra noughts added to your bank balance” – for Tottenham’s troubles while Keane was excused. We can claim the Premier League is as cosmopolitan as we like, but when it comes down to it we will still find it far easier to celebrate a striker, puce in the face, needlessly chasing long balls over one who plays with an economy of movement and expression of disdain for balls flying over his head from clueless centre-backs.
We believe that Wayne Rooney really wants to win for Manchester United because we have lip-read him swearing at linesmen on enough occasions, but Berbatov is impossible to read, with most attempts to do so informed by comparisons to poker-faced eastern European villains in Hollywood blockbusters. But it is this enigmatic grace that makes Berbatov far more interesting than 99 per cent of Premier League players and for all his greed, one that should be celebrated rather than dismissed as the ultimate foreign mercenary. Josh Widdicombe