In the car park of footballers, Dimitar Berbatov is the Jensen Interceptor. Expensive to run, rubbish in congested traffic, a dog to start in cold weather, occasionally spluttering and, frankly, a relic from another time.But when it runs well, it purrs along beautifully. And, let’s face it, we all dream of owning one.
Which is why I despair when I hear Stan Collymore, in what is becoming a weekly diatribe against Fulham’s grandmaster, asking whether he is worthy of being the Craven Cottage captain. Oh, Stan – you’re missing the point.
In a landscape of nuclear-powered machines, Berbatov chugs along at his own pace, seemingly wired to a AAA battery left over from an old remote control. He plays when he wants to – Berbatov is there to entertain us. He won’t do it every minute of the game, he might not even do it every match and there are games where he could seemingly play in flipflops without a scrap of mud striking his foot. But when he plays, we all sit up. Things happen when Berbatov flicks the switch. An ability to stroke the ball around with ease – he doesn’t score many, but when he does they are usually conjured up through a clever shuffle of feet, a body swerve, or simply a moment of deftness that you have to slow-mo a 100 times over just to see how it was done.
That ‘dead space’ between the opposition midfield and defence is Berbatov’s home.
Image by nicksarebi
On his game, he manipulates that area like few other footballers can. Bergkamp did it but he was clean shaven and supreme, almost too perfect at times. Zola fitted in around there but he was surrounded by Chelsea royalty, as opposed to Bryan Ruiz or Giorgios Karagounis. Berbatov does it without looking bothered. He dominates the Premier League ‘shrug’ statistic rate like no one else.
Berbatov doesn’t chase long balls. Why should he? Sooner or later the ball will drop at his feet, he’ll manipulate it into space and create a chance. The shoulder might drop, the posture might strain, but he won’t exactly break sweat.
This is why when Berba hits the silver screen – just to plant that seed, should any script writers be reading – I want Richard E. Grant to be playing the great man. Someone cool. A wine-drinking thespian who, frankly, doesn’t give one about what the fist-clenching ‘give it 100 per cent’ mob think. I don’t watch football to see attrition and tackling. I watch it to be inspired – to see the football being treated with care.
One day Berbatov will be gone. Retired. No longer a Premier League footballer. Enjoy him while you can. I miss the Jensen and, when he’s gone, God dammit I’ll miss Berbatov.