Published on March 2nd, 2013 | by Kristan Heneage0
Berbatov gains the space to flourish once again
“It’s fitting that Berbatov enjoys sketching in his spare time. Study his drawings and you’ll note the detail of his work. The narrow lines within which his pencil navigates denote the same kind of intricacy that has defined his career as one of Europe’s most dynamic strikers.” Writes Kristan Heneage
As a player at Manchester United, it’s never easy to walk out and know you’re never coming back. Ideally you are left with no regrets, no bitterness, and only pleasant words to the management.
Sadly that wasn’t the case for Dimitar Berbatov: “I don’t think I deserved such treatment at United – not playing (regularly) in the last year,” he told the Independent.
Operating with hindsight he began to question if his time at the club was up sooner than he thought: “Maybe I should’ve gone when he [Sir Alex Ferguson] left me out of the squad for the Champions League final [in 2011],” he pondered. “I know he’s the boss, but he has lost, to some extent, my respect because of the way he treated me. He [Ferguson] tried to explain to me that the team will be using a more direct style, with more speed.”
With Berbatov, speed has only ever been attributed to the mind he uses to dictate play. Yet by his own admission he no longer fitted the brief for Manchester United: “I’ve never been among the fastest players, I like to hold the ball, this is my style.”
His style was unique, and one that resonated with the terraces of Old Trafford. He reminded them of a certain French maverick they had long missed. There was no collar for him to lift, and he didn’t talk about seagulls and trawlers but he had his own nuances. Yet when the team suffered he was often the one that was lamented – his confident swagger re-branded as lackadaisical sauntering.
“I found it hard to accept his decision (not to play me) – I still have my dignity. I scored many goals, I won the league two times, and I was the league top scorer, so it’s not bad,” he nonchalantly told the Independent.
With several offers including a return to Tottenham and Germany on the table, he courted the kind of controversy only someone befitting his profile could. “He did not deserve our city and our shirt and the values it represents,” a statement on the Fiorentina website said. That’s because Berbatov had organized a meeting with the La Viola only to stand them up at the airport. It wasn’t his finest hour.
Admitting to stress during his attempts to find a new club he eventually sought familiarity with Martin Jol at Fulham. After a period of isolation Berbatov needed to feel wanted. Towards the end of his time at Tottenham he had become the centre-piece. Jol, not only understood him but was willing to indulge his personality.
“What do you want?” Jol asked the Guardian. “A player without quality who works harder? Or a quality player who hopefully works hard?”
It was perhaps a valid argument. Prior to Saturday’s win over Stoke, Fulham had won just twice in 2013. It was form that needed redressing – Berbatov happy to help with a delightful volley. As well as a match-winning goal, he had also met Jol’s request for that particular kind of strike. “He tries to prove a point, because he’s a good sport,” he said of the goal.
Wearing the number nine at Craven Cottage, his role is far more akin to that of a number ten. Dropping deep and looking to be the instigator of the attacks as well as the one to finish them, Jol is clearly enamored with the man he paid £4 million for. “I made a gamble to play with [Hugo] Rodallega upfront and Dimitar, and he was probably the best ‘No. 10′ you can imagine.” he said after their game against Wigan Athletic.
Once again flourishing in London, he hopes to continue his work in England long past his mid thirties. “I want to play until I am 40, but I am not a goalkeeper, Paolo Maldini or Ryan Giggs,” he explained. “I want to play in England for several more years. I like England as a place. I like its mentality, its culture, its football.”
The feeling of admiration is a mutual one, with Fulham fans enjoying his presence at their club. Still even Berbatov must one day call time on his playing career and retire. That won’t be the end of his involvement in the game however: “I want to start a football academy in Bulgaria for children. I hope some of them will one day be famous with big European clubs,” he told World Soccer.
It’s fitting that Berbatov enjoys sketching in his spare time. Study his drawings and you’ll note the detail of his work. The narrow lines within which his pencil navigates denote the same kind of intricacy that has defined his career as one of Europe’s most dynamic strikers. Now in one of the final chapter’s of his career, many will hope he can continue to provide the kind of masterpieces that have captivated fans for the better part of 15 years.
Image credit: guardian.co.uk
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