The Dimitar Berbatov Appreciation Society

Posted by Phil Mison

Dimitar Berbatov peels away after scoring for Fulham against StokeGettyImagesBerbatov's goalscoring ability has outshone his petulance this season

Those hacks over at the Daily Mail must have too much time on their hands. Either that or they are mostly Fulham fans finding time hangs heavy between fixtures for the finest team in London. It appears they sent out a survey to all managers in the Premier League asking for a qualitative assessment of their peers and colleagues. I'm a little surprised the forms actually got returned – how many club secretaries I wonder filled them in by proxy? Anyway, for what it's worth Michael Laudrup justifiably comes out as the man to make the biggest impact this season, while our very own Bulgarian superstar comes in at number four in the 'best signing of the season' category.

Michu came in first, followed by Robin van Persie and Santi Cazorla. Two Spaniards in the top three, yet none in the Fulham ranks? I know I've raised this before, but this is something we should be addressing for our next phase of rebuilding. Scouting is a global business today and there is no excuse for not having coverage across all areas. Flights to Spain from London are as cheap as any while Primera Liga coverage via satellite is high profile, entertaining and excellently packaged. Which ex-pro would turn that gig down for nine months of the year? I'll take it on tomorrow Mr. Mackintosh, just pay me in hotel rooms and cuba libres. If you're reading this and you follow football, you have to make a pilgrimage to the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu at least once in your life.

Enough already, this blog is meant to be a long overdue salute to the skills of Dimitar Berbatov and his decision to join Fulham. It certainly made headlines last August, and caught everyone by surprise. Such a high profile signing had overtones of the Edwin van der Sar deal about it. Back in the days of Jean Tigana and our baptism in the Premier League, incredibly it was little Fulham who elbowed their way to the front of the queue, banged down a cheque for £8 million and spirited the Dutch giant away from Juventus to the banks of the Thames. Rumours that Holland's national keeper was restless in Turin surfaced that spring. I found myself alongside Edwin at a Rotterdam press conference before an international friendly and casually asked him if any English clubs appealed to him. I can assure you, Fulham did not get a mention! But once he joined, Tigana came out to tell the press: "This is a transfer that tells football Fulham under Mr. al Fayed mean business and top players in turn will attract other good players to the club."

Talismanic our top-scorer may be, but has Berba given value for money, and more controversially, has he been good for the team? This is where I suspect we might attract a broad spectrum of opinion. Considering his reputation, and that last stop-start season at Old Trafford where Sir Alex gave his £30 million pound man equal game and bench time, I don't think any of us expected to see quite a work rate from Berbatov at both ends of the pitch. It hasn't been exemplary – I recall a handful of games over the winter where Dimi decided the game was up and he wasn't going to keep chasing lost causes and misplaced passes. To be fair to the player, barely had Dimi selected his locker-room peg than Fulham's prime forward threat was heading off to White Hart Lane, following hard on the heels of midfield maestro Mousa Dembele. With the die already cast, in that fateful week leading up to West Ham away, Fulham's equilibrium suffered a near fatal blow.

Without doubt Berbatov remains a sublime talent. Every other club in the league would covet him. Great credit goes to Martin for persuading him down to SW6. We can only hope some of his magic dust has rubbed off on others throughout the club ranks, and that his influence becomes ever more telling with better players around him next season. Even his penalties are a thing of beauty.

I could do without a lot of the on-field histrionics, finger-pointing, shrugs and pouts that would have seen Dimi in permanent detention with my old sports master. But at least it shows he cares. And heavens knows, were we not all happy to tolerate similar attitude from the incomparable Johnny Haynes? I guess the jury is still out until we know our status is secured. Another half dozen goals to add to his tally and some fluent performances in the spring sunshine will certainly add lustre to both Berbatov's and Fulham's rollercoaster season to date.


ESPN Conversations