I used to work with a man. We used to talk about football. Sometimes we’d mention Dimitar Berbatov. He would refer to him, and I’m starting to shake with anger and frustration as I remember these harrowing incidents, as “Berbaflop”…………sorry, I just had to go and have a walk around the garden to calm myself down. Bad memories. At the time, Berbatov played for Manchester United, a club I have no particular feelings for. Certainly none strong enough to view any of their players through red-tinted glasses. And yet I found myself getting incredibly offended at this. There are obvious statistical arguments that Dimi was clearly not a flop. Berbatov averaged almost a goal every other game for the yellow and greens in the league, including one season as the overall top scorer. But the major issue for me is that he is the epitome of a player that should never be discussed in terms of, to quote podsquad member Gaz, stats and statistics (THEY ARE THE SAME THING GARETH!).
To talk about Dimitar Berbatov’s stats, how many tackles he makes closing down defenders, how many kilometres he runs, is to completely miss the point. It’s like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine chapel and asking what brush he’s using to finish that particular cherub. Just sit back and watch him. For you art lovers out there, I’m aware that the ceiling of the Sistine chapel took more than 90 minutes to finish. Probably. Don’t ask why Berbatov is only winning 16% of his headers in a game. Just sit back and watch him.
The way he strolls around the pitch is a marvel. Some people say lazy. Some people use the phrase “economy of movement” (a euphemism for lazy). It matters not. Some put him in the same kind of arrogant, lazy category as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Ibrahimovic snarls at his team mates for misplacing a pass, like a cruel landowner whipping one of his peasants for not working hard enough at the end of a twenty hour shift, Berbatov strolls around the pitch like a kindly factory owner during the industrial revolution, nodding hello to his staff, popping a few farthings in to the hands of a lowly machine operator. Whatever stretched metaphor you choose to use, there is one fact that, to me cannot be denied. Dimitar Berbatov is operating on a whole different level to everyone else. Not necessarily a better level, or a more effective level, just a different one. And that is why I love him. What makes it even better is that, while to me, supremely arrogant stars like Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo (I toyed with the idea of putting CR7 here. And then quite a large part of my soul died, so I quickly changed my mind) seem almost embarrassingly aware of the attention bestowed on them, Berbatov seems genuinely confused by it. He doesn’t really celebrate. It’s just his job.
A lot of football fans, particularly in England would choose a player with limited ability who tries hard (ah, Mr Milner, meet Mr Barry) over someone like Berbatov. At a very, very, VERY low level, that type of player is me. I wouldn’t pay to watch me, and I am me. I pay to watch people do things that I couldn’t dream of doing. Berbatov has the ability to do these extraordinary things and make them look easier than disagreeing with Nick Griffin. He seems, without a hint of arrogance, to have the demeanour that time revolves around him. He’s the mate in your circle of friends who you just know is going to turn up late because he got caught up watching one more episode of Takeshi’s Castle. During the summer he kept three clubs waiting for a decision on his future. Fiorentina wanted him. They pay for his flight to Florence. Berbatov decides he can’t be bothered with that and changes flights to Turin to go and talk to Juventus. Two days later he’s back in the UK, with Fiorentina demanding recompense for the wasted flight. Juventus assume he’s joined them. Next minute he turns up at Craven Cottage, being photographed with Martin Jol, purely on the basis that his wife likes London.
Parody twitter accounts are very popular nowadays. People pretending to be footballers, sometimes for comedy reasons, sometimes for, well, I don’t know. You try rationalising why someone would pretend to be Zat Knight on twitter without a hint of irony. But when done well, the twitter parody account is a thing of beauty. The Big Sam perfectly encapsulates how the average football fan views Sam Allardyce. The criminally underused Berbatov one is another. Whoever may have created this account likes to paint him as some sort of landed gentry type figure. Just a couple of gems from this account sum up for me how I like to perceive Dimitar.
When Manchester United played the away leg of their Europa League tie with Athletic Bilbao last season, fake Berbatov commented:
“Nice trip to the Guggenheim, got to brush up on my Basque though”
And after a Boxing Day hat trick against Wigan:
“Another hat trick today, this time a successful trio of jigsaws. Dover Castle, Viking long ship and a Scottie dog. Feet up now”
I choose to spend my days believing that the real Berbatov has similar thoughts to these. Please let it be true.
During his whole career he’s played for teams I have no real feelings for either way. And yet I’ve always loved him. It doesn’t matter who he plays for. He could just walk around my living room with a ball at his feet. As long as he’d wiped his shoes first.
You can follow me on twitter, @NeilTurton