After 64 minutes on the AS Monaco substitutes’ bench at Stade Louis II on Sunday, the brooding was over for Dimitar Berbatov, who was introduced to his new adoring public in the 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain.
The Bulgarian international, a deadline-day signing from English Premier League side Fulham, got his first taste of Ligue 1 football in a relatively unnoteworthy 26-minute cameo appearance.
A replacement for the injured Radamel Falcao, the hosts still lacked cutting edge even with Berbatov on the pitch against PSG. Their equaliser came through a Thiago Silva own goal, attempting to clear a teasing cross from Brazilian full-back Fabinho, with the 33-year-old Bulgarian providing little attacking impetus.
Although it may be too early to judge his ability to contribute for Les Monegasques just yet, is Berbatov the right sort of replacement for Falcao?
In the circumstances, yes he is. But that is only because he can do more than simply score the occasional goal.
Considering where Monaco are at present—second in Le Championnat and looking good for UEFA Champions League qualification—El Tigre’s anterior cruciate ligament injury was badly timed. With less than one week to find a replacement before the January transfer period closed, ASM acted fast.
In Berbatov the club have secured an experienced striker, talented and with plenty of technical ability, who can contribute immediately. The former Manchester United man was also available for free, according to L’Equipe, who claim that he has signed a six-month permanent deal with Monaco.
The principality outfit needed a stopgap solution and Berbatov could yet prove to be more than that, but in an immediate sense it fills the void left by Falcao that should have been covered by the arrival of Lacina Traore.
However, the Ligue 1 side had already reached an agreement over the Ivorian international joining EPL side Everton on loan for the rest of the season and would have appeared unprofessional if they had backed out of the deal at the 11th hour.
Limited in their options, they appear to have chosen well in Berbatov. Now the Bulgarian has to prove his coach Claudio Ranieri and the ASM hierarchy correct.
Firstly, he is not a direct replacement for Falcao.
The Colombian is a prolific talent, and in order to replace him adequately, Monaco would have had to spend a vast amount of money in order to persuade one of Europe’s top clubs to part with one of their top talents.
That was always going to prove an impossible task considering how close to the end of the transfer window it was.
Added to the fact that no club still left in the Champions League would have considered selling one of their key players, despite the fact that the money on offer would likely have been staggering, it was always going to be a question of finding a clinical player who could perhaps add something else.
Berbatov’s ability to create chances as well as scoring them is arguably what attracted the principality outfit.
While he might not be on the same level as PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who leads Le Championnat in both goals and assists, the mercurial striker could help Ranieri’s team solve one of their biggest problems this season.
Falcao had only scored nine league goals in 17 appearances when he got injured, a disappointing tally for a player who has built his reputation in Europe by consistently being one of the most predatory strikers in recent years.
In France, partly because of the defensive nature of so many of the teams that the likes of PSG and Monaco face on a weekly basis, simply continuing this trend was not going to be straightforward.
But another key reason for his struggles has been Les Monegasques’ inability to bridge the gap between Falcao and the team’s most creative midfielders.
Berbatov will be able to solve that problem and, as shown when he was introduced on Sunday, he will spend most of his time playing behind one of ASM’s other strikers. Although the player playing ahead of him will not be as prolific as Falcao, this formula should still find some success.
In Ranieri’s Monaco squad, there is Emmanuel Riviere, who is joint-top scorer along with the South American star on nine goals, youth academy product Valere Germain and 18-year-old French sensation Anthony Martial.
All three are capable of scoring goals, but none could provide that bridge between the midfield and the second striker well enough to help Falcao thrive pre-injury. Riviere was the player Berbatov was deployed behind on Sunday and it is a good bet that Ranieri sees that as his best option for now.
With the Bulgarian feeding the Frenchman, who is enjoying a rare and relatively prolific season despite a handful of missing chances against PSG, Monaco should struggle less to score in the tighter domestic games.
Germain and Martial are also capable of chipping in and Berbatov himself will be expected to contribute with a number of goals between now and the end of the season.
The 33-year-old was not at his prolific best when his time in England drew to a close, but he does not need to be a 10-to-20-goals-per-season striker at the Stade Louis II. What Ranieri will want from the sulky star is a handful of goals, but an improved link between midfield and attack.
Goals are a striker’s main currency and Berbatov, with just four goals in 18 appearances for Fulham this term prior to the move, has not done enough in that respect to justify replacing Falcao.
But filling El Tigre’s boots might not be the most accurate description of Berbatov’s role for the principality side between now and the end of the campaign.
Have Monaco filled the primary need that the Colombian’s absence was threatening to expose? Yes, they have.
However, they have also used the opportunity to address another pressing need of theirs. In that respect, Berbatov could turn out to be more than just a simple stopgap replacement for Falcao.
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