By Mike Stevenson (mikeinparma)
I want to discuss that’s something that has bugged me over the last three years: Dimitar Berbatov.
To discuss my feelings for Berba, I have to go back to the beginning. In my first year as a Spurs supporter at the ripe old age of 25 and coming from the US, I’d come a long way in understanding the game, how it was meant to be played, what constituted shit football, etc etc. Who were the players that could dazzle us, who were the ones to make us perpetually face palm (I’m looking at you, Lee Young-Pyo) and above all, why I knew in my heart I’d made the right choice to support Tottenham Hotspur. This was the season when dodgy lasagna stopped us from finishing 4th.
In retrospect, it might have been too much too soon for me. I wouldn’t have felt like I’d earned it (if one living 5,000 miles away can ever feel like he’d EARNED it.) I’d have felt like a f*cking bandwagoner, like oh so many Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Scum fans around me. I wanted to support a team that was a cut above the rest, but not a New York Yankees type dynasty. No fun in that. As a Cleveland fan, I was used to being that almost team in oh so many different sports. The threat of disappointment held no sway over this fan’s mind. It was all about enjoying the game. Enjoying Robbie Keane flipping and tricking his way beyond 4 Blackburn defenders on the goal line to score an amazing goal; Enjoying Martin Jol squaring up to Wenger at Highbury; Enjoying the fact that we were winning more than we were losing. It was all just a great ride that first year…
Then, it happened. Losing to West Ham on the final day. Losing out on Champions League. More importantly losing it to the Scum. At the time, I was still too new to really understand the ramifications of the whole event. But I gathered that to lifelong Spurs fans, it was nothing short of absolute tragedy. But oh well, it didn’t phase me as much as all that. I still had a team in Europe, I still had a favourite player in Robbie Keane, and I still had a favourite team. A clear-cut favourite team. Tottenham. Yes, a kid from Ohio loved Tottenham more than his own hometown teams. Odd.
Moving forward to the summer of 2006, an unknown (to me) Bulgarian striker from some team called Bayer Leverkusen glided through our doors. I had no idea of his skill, his reputation, his demeanor. Nothing. And, to be honest, he didn’t impress me a whole lot as the season got underway. However, as he grew into the side, it was clear that this guy was something else. I recently watched the highlights of the Fulham away game in the 06-07 FA Cup, 4-0 Spurs. While Robbie Keane’s volleys got the Ooohs & Ahhs, Berbatov’s sexy flick over the keeper for the 4th was the epitome of class. He dripped confidence. He glided in such a way that he knew he was better than the player he was up against. Not many things other than the female form can give me a hard on, but that one touch flick past that hapless Charlton Athletic defender and ensuing goal to send them down was climax worthy.
By then, I’d really done my homework on the history of Spurs, and knew of the tradition of having those flair players with no real backbone to surround them with in order to be a successful team. Style, but no substance. You score three, we’ll try to get four mentality. While exciting, this is no way to go through a league season. Berbatov was another in a long line of players like Ginola, Gazza, Klinsmann, etc who gave us moments of sheer ecstasy whilst being surrounded in a pool of mediocrity. And while I enjoyed having him here, there was always that sense of impending doom that we wouldn’t be able to hang onto one as classy as this without making any real progress. What made it slightly worse is I never got the sense he loved playing at Tottenham in the same way as, say, Keane-o loved it. It always felt like we were a stepping stone to bigger & better things. And, after a truly shit 07-08 in which we had 1 moment of glory amongst a shitstorm of changes, I knew he would leave.
The weird thing was, I almost felt like he should leave. Why? Because he was better than us. That’s right. He was better than us. It was hard for me to admit at the time, but the fact that he was never Spurs through and through and the fact that his skill level wasn’t really to be matched by anyone else on that Spurs team made it easier to let him go. What’s that old saying? If you love someone, set them free. I loved Berbatov playing for us, and to be honest, he never betrayed the club like a certain Irishman who said he was Spurs through and through only to bolt when fucking Liverpool opened up their shirt and stuck a tit out at him. But that’s another story. How I felt when Berba finally left us on Deadline Day can be summed up by paraphrasing Redd at the end of Shawshank Redemption, ‘Some birds are not meant to be kept. Their feathers are too bright.’ When Sir Alex Ferguson pays in excess of 30mil for someone, you know he has the goods. He went on to win the Premier League twice as well as the Champions League. I’m happy for him.
Now, he’s 30, nowhere near the United first eleven, and it saddens me. Someone on twitter posed the question, ‘would you take him back?’ Yes I would, in a heartbeat. I do believe he has affection for Spurs and went to United because it was a glorious opportunity to do great things in the prime of his career. I also believe that if he came back, he’d do a great job for us no questions asked. One thing is for sure; he’d have a much better team around him than when he left. Berbatov’s undoubted class would really shine in this current squad. Instead of Jenas and Tainio, he’d have Parker & Modric. Rather than Malbranque, he’d have Bale. No Robbie Keane? Oh, I suppose he’d just have to make do with Rafael Van der Vaart. Tough life. I genuinely think Berba would have a bit of a renaissance here at Tottenham again and would welcome the opportunity to see him play in a Tottenham shirt. You might call him ‘the one that got away.’ And you know what? You’d be absolutely right. He was the first player of genuine world-class level I watched at Spurs week in and week out. Keane-o might have been my favorite, but he never evoked the same level of emotion from me as when I watched Berba play. I hope he comes back.