Dimitar Berbatov’s gutless display for Fulham against Southampton at the weekend showed the underlying concerns of a troubled genius.
Dimitar Berbatov is famed for his lackadaisical and unorthodox style. His strolling of the pitch makes him appear aloof, a maverick, but one whose work rate has been called into question all too many times in his high profile career.
I ask, is it time that Martin Jol gave Dimitar some tough love?
Berbatov arrived at Craven Cottage in late August 2012, leaving behind Old Trafford in the process. It signalled Berbatov’s return to London, following a three-year spell at Tottenham Hotspur, before a £40m move saw him join Sir Alex Ferguson’s ranks at Manchester United in 2008.
Somewhat of a cult hero, Berbatov’s languid approach to the beautiful game has frustrated many, notably Sir Alex Ferguson. Whilst he has always been known for being able to produce something out of nothing, being capable of turning a game on its head or providing a moment of inspiration to drive his team forward, many have been able to overlook his deficiencies when it came to work rate.
The Bulgarian’s game appears serene, composed and never appears anything less than within a status of complete control. Often, this has been interpreted as laziness. His ability to bring team-mates into play with a deft flick, or a quick burst of technical play has won his many admirers.
Questions over his commitment remain.
This was perhaps best demonstrated last Saturday. Featuring in the late kick-off, in which Fulham visited St. Mary’s Stadium to face Southampton, Berbatov’s laid back character gave way to a portrayal of frustration and lack of interest. Having been pressed fast and hard by Southampton’s back-line and the combative Victor Wanyama, it appeared that Berbatov’s interest in the game was waning.
When Rickie Lambert scored the opener for Southampton from a set-piece, a quick glance at the replays confirmed that Lambert was supposed to have been marked by, you guessed it… Dimitar.
What made the replays all the more galling for Fulham supporters was that Scott Parker had led Berbatov to Lambert, repeatedly instructing the Bulgarian maverick to “mark Lambert!”
In truth, Parker could have done little more to assist the former Manchester United man, unless he had been prepared to hold his hand and do the job himself. The logic made sense, place the towering presence of Berbatov against the towering presence of Lambert. However, no sooner had Ward-Prowse whipped in the corner, Berbatov had taken his eye off the prize, allowing Lambert to stroll away to head in Jay Rodriguez’s flick on at the far post. Parker’s head was in his hands, and rightly so.
Whilst there is no doubting the immense attacking contribution Berbatov can bring to a side, especially one such as Fulham, who at times found themselves rescued by the brilliance of Berbatov, there comes a stage where the question has to be asked.
Can Fulham afford to carry Berbatov anymore?
You will find little greater evidence of a ‘passenger’ in a game than Berbatov’s display against Southampton. Disinterested, petulant and non-plussed, Berbatov painted the image of a man who had little interest in competing, and very little interest in the end result. Disregarding his lack of effort towards marking Lambert, Berbatov appeared unprepared to pressure the opponent. In addition, when Berbatov was felled by Croatian defender Dejan Lovren and his Southampton compatriots, Berbatov showed appetite only for bemoaning his luck to the referee.
A strange outcome, considering the importance placed on his relationship with Martin Jol, and the importance of Jol’s management in encouraging Berbatov’s move to join the Cottages in West London. Even stranger, when you consider that Jol’s future has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks.
With just one goal in the first nine games of the 2013/14 Premier League season, and with Fulham languishing just two points above the relegation zone, perhaps it’s time Martin Jol gave Dimitar some tough love.
Do you think Berbatov should be dropped – or is that a risk Fulham simply cannot afford?
image: © nicksarebi