So long then, Dimitar. After seven and a half years in the Premier League, the closing of the January transfer window brought the news that Dimitar Berbatov had left Fulham for Monaco on loan. With his contract due to expire in the summer, it is likely that English crowds will have seen the last of his aloof genius.
He remains eternally undervalued. His career in England had fizzled out, to the extent where he could slip out of the back door unnoticed, with an air of sulkiness so perfectly embodied by Harry Enfield’s character ‘Kevin the Teenager’.
For a player who scored 122 goals in 304 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Fulham, his inconspicuous departure is an indictment of English football culture. This is because Berbatov operated on a quixotic higher plane, which required a level of comprehension that was unattainable for us mere mortals. It was announced that he was a footballing sensation but for most, Berbatov’s skill remained frustratingly ephemeral meaning the public refuted this claim with the unabashed conviction of a drunk, stumbling about uncontrollably whilst shouting at a passer-by that they was not, in fact, under the influence.
Having failed to recognise a master of soft-shoed goal scoring guile, the nation began a collective character assassination that the Daily Mail would have been proud of. Berbatov was too lazy. He did not try. He did not pray before bedtime. This savage vitriol swept the footballing landscape so that even Sir Alex Ferguson was fooled. Despite scoring or creating 83 goals in 149 games for Manchester United, he was forced out. Sorry, but you are not a team player. But this inability to understand Berbatov is indicative of English football as a whole.
His talents are worryingly underappreciated, especially compared to a Lee Cattermole type player: someone who is desperately lacking in technical ability, but is first class at aggressively shouting at his teammates for conceding a corner, so much so that the vein in his forehead becomes more visible to astronauts than the Great Wall of China. This is the passion that makes the Premier League a global spectacle; people do not tune in to see Berbatov, a man who saunters around the final third before nonchalantly scoring the winning goal with the deftest flick of his boot, only to be substituted in injury time so that he can slope off before the M25 gets bad. It is a modern criticism of football that pundits, managers and fans alike are becoming increasingly reliant on statistics.
But the astonishing numbers are all we have to show for Berbatov’s brilliance. Constrained by our untrained eyes, Berbatov was not appreciated as a modern great, despite the records showing that he scored more Premier League goals than folk heroes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Dennis Bergkamp, or the £130m worth of talent that is Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres.
Now aged 33, Berbatov is likely to see out his career in foreign lands, not only in the hope for one last mega pay cheque, but also to glance around furtively to see if the crowd are cultured enough to comprehend his subtly artistic footwork and languid, broad brush-like movement. If they are not, then the footballing world will have lost a master-craftsman to the pantheon of high-art postmodern virtuosos.
In his retirement, he is more likely to frequent the artisanal district of Montmartre than grace this island with his misunderstood sagacity.