Dimitar Berbatov Continues to Find Redemption at Fulham
There were some in West London who feared that Dimitar Berbatov's wasted year would have an adverse effect on his ability.
Fulham weren't taking much of a risk in spending £4 million on a player with genuine class and a proven track record, but the question wasn't whether or not he was still great, rather how great?
Eleven games into the Premier League season and we're beginning to get a fair idea.
Against Arsenal this past Saturday he was the best player on the Emirates pitch by a mile—oozing class in a performance that mixed style with an atypical toughness.
Neither of his two goals will make many highlight reels of the best of the weekend's action, but the way he tortured the Arsenal defence with his sublime touch and visionary passing didn't go unnoticed by those watching the madcap drama of the 3-3 draw unfold.
The Gunners were supposed to be one of the most tactically disciplined teams in Britain this season, inspired by Steve Bould's impenetrable zonal marking scheme and the brick wall Abou Diaby.
However, since the French box-to-box midfielder went down injured in late-September, Arsene Wenger's side have looked increasingly tired and lackadaisical.
Berbatov's adroit creativity and devastating close control exploited these weaknesses to maximum effect Saturday.
The game and his man of the match display felt like the end of a struggle—the end of a difficult journey that reached its nadir earlier this year.
But having failed to live up to the billing in Manchester, his success for Fulham is certainly no coincidence.
He is playing for a team designed to accommodate him, a team firmly built around the Bulgarian—to pass and move through him, not around him like Manchester United had done.
Granted, Brian Ruiz is a talent, but far too inconsistent. He is a luxury, where Berbatov is a necessity.
In an environment such as the one at Fulham, he is playing with very little pressure on his shoulders. The expectations of the club are incomparable to those at United.
He is also playing for a manager with unequivocal faith in him.
While he was given reason to doubt Sir Alex Ferguson's trust in him at United, Martin Jol's belief in his star player is one of the most assured truths in the game today.
This is a manager who once claimed he'd "rather die" than sell his star player when the two worked together at Tottenham.
In a scene that I imagine would be the perfect climax for a rom-com, he received a call from Jol asking him to come to London moments before he was about to board a flight for Italy.
One conversation was all it took for the perfect marriage to be rekindled.
"If I feel that the coach is trusting in my ability then I can do special things on the pitch," he said after his brace helped trounce West Brom on his home debut (via The Guardian).
The Bulgarian is clearly just like the rest of us—he wants to be loved.
According to Jol, when arriving in West London to finalise his transfer, there was only one question on Berbatov's mind: "Do you think they [Fulham fans] will like me?"
A player who may go down in history as one of British football's biggest transfer flops, will likely also feature as one of its greatest coups.
He has already scored five goals in only seven league games, inspiring his new club to eighth place in the Premier League standings at the time of writing.
And yes, they most definitely like him.
What have you made of Berbatov's recent form? Has he put your doubts about him to bed, or were you always a fan?
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