Why we should be glad that Berbatov has chosen to stay in England:

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Dimitar Berbatov – enigma, genius, idle flop. The Bulgarian front man certainly splits opinion within the footballing world, but there are many reasons that we should be glad that he has chosen to stay in the Premier League rather than venture abroad.

As the completion of his move to Fulham nears (it’s complete – ed), and other suitors such as Juventus, Fiorentina and Paris Saint-Germain turn their attentions elsewhere after failing to seduce the once-prolific striker, southwest London can look forward to witnessing the grace and majesty of a rare talent for themselves. Goals have never been Berbatov’s problem, with over 100 to his name since he made the move to England from Bayer Leverkusen. More so, it is his playing style which has seemed to irk fans and the media alike.

It is ironically lazy journalism to refer to Berbatov’s manner on the pitch as “languid”, “laid-back” or “lethargic” but he does possess a way of gliding across the playing surface without seeming to exert any real effort at all. It is the lack of tearing about the pitch and chasing lost causes that makes him an easy scapegoat when things are not going so well for his team, as has been the case on more than one occasion during his Manchester United career. In a British football culture which is often guilty of somewhat archaically applauding a player’s “work-rate” before his technical ability, this 31-year-old is very much in a mould of his own in the modern game.

Yet players with similar playing styles (think Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona) have forged hugely successful careers in the past, so why is it that Berbatov continues to divide opinion? He may not possess the same level of natural talent as the other two that I have mentioned, but in terms of touch, feel and class, he isn’t exactly light-years away either. Whilst Cantona was always viewed as a temperamental genius and a free spirit at United, the same fans took Berba’s tantrums, smoking habit and self-imposed isolation from the rest of the squad as portraying an attitude problem.

There are also those who will tell you that 2010-11’s Premier League top scorer only scored in his club’s easy games, yet the figures show that he scored in 48% of the games that he started in that year, a rate only bettered by Rooney, Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy in United’s 18 previous Premier League seasons. His contribution in terms of goals then cannot be faulted and his ability to calm the game down, keep the ball and produce the occasional moment of magic for his team-mates meant that he was an asset that has perhaps slipped the net a couple of years early for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. With the addition of Robin Van Persie, the Bulgarian has been labelled as surplus to requirements and little effort has been made to find a place in the squad for the ageing star.

In Berbatov, Fulham stand to acquire a goal-scoring talent and a focal point to their team who is very likely to thrive if he is treated as the club’s main striker, a role that he was never able to wrestle from Rooney in Manchester. His footballing brain and ability to find the back of the net are to be admired, and if Fulham fans are willing to embrace him as they should, they will be able to consider themselves lucky to be watching him in their club’s shirt on a weekly basis.

A figure of mockery from some areas of football, Berbatov will always be. We should consider, however, that it is not he who suffers with an attitude problem but us and our British mentality that overlooks a graceful performer in favour of “good, old-fashioned grit and determination”. I for one, look forward to watching his magical touch and moments of class on our screens every Saturday night once again next season, and I very much urge you to do the same.

Craig Muff

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