Nary a peep.
That’s what will happen.
As another Premiership campaign bullets down the stretch and Manchester United goes ahead by a few horse lengths, so dribbles to closure the likely Premiership career of a peculiar one, Dimitar Berbatov.
It’s almost incredulous that a player who was last year’s co-Golden Boot winner–20 in the Premiership last year to share the title with the one and only Carlos Tevez–has become such an afterthought both by his manager and by the ravenous English press. Can you name the last Golden Boot winner who was so thoroughly dismissed by the flaks in London as the Bulgarian?
Berbatov has dropped so low on Twitter vitriol and overall fanatical appeal that he’s fallen well below the “Daily Mail Line.”
(The Daily Mail line is the minimum click impact a player’s name brings in so that an English rag feels necessary to write anything–truth, conjecture, about their car, about stealing a donut–in order to drive traffic to their web site. In short, he’s been, pun intended, written off.)
The man, who perhaps is best identified on the pitch now not by the groans of failure but for his awkward shuffling trot with his fists tucked inside his jersey like he’s still warming up–will slink away from the Premiership champ and probably be known as Man United’s most expensive, and worst?, purchase ever–over $30M£ for someone who produced goals, but could not impose his pristine touches and bend a game to his will at the highest level.
But Berbatov’s exoneration of striking duties at Old Trafford signals also the graduation of the club and shows why–after all these years–Sir Alex Ferguson’s still got it as manager. It also condemns yet another Chelsea manager, Andres Villas-Boas, impaled way too early on the roasting spit that is constantly revolving at Stamford Bridge.
When Sir Alex bought “Berba” the idea was to provide a hold-up and disbursement pairing for Wayne Rooney and others to run off of, with the Bulgarian dropping dimes at will. With Ronaldo looking to leave Manchester the following year, Berba would come in and provide someone who would command attention of the opponent’s defense. Of course, he would also be counted on to display some of the silky moves he had done previously and put some balls in the back of the net.
Yet, despite a very respectable goal haul and despite accolades heaped on him as a misunderstood genius at the highest level, Berbatov’s “game”–and his role–is one that is slowly being exterminated across European leagues for the most part with the role of distributor moving a little further back the pitch. You’re either a false nine these days (Rooney, Van Persie) or you’re a physical target man who can threaten or you’re a speedy-slasher guy. A tweener?
The broader trend in global soccer has been for teams to press up the pitch, using a bevy of mite-sized attackers to not only create chances, but to also press the opponents defense (Jurgen, Jurgen).
In the attack, forwards are required to be more active and draw defenders either opening themselves up for a pass or open space for those behind them. Look no further most recently than Pep and Barcelona slotting in 20-year-old Cuenca at “forward” in a key Champion’s League tilt against A.C. Milan last month. Cuenca may have been labeled a “forward” but he stayed wide, merely drawing out the fullback to create space–more a winger who played advanced. Whoa is the striker who stays central and with perhaps effective but little movement.
On defense in this deployment, the rationale is quite simple–and analogous to the change in NFL defenses to employ two decent cover corners and mercilessly blitz the opponent with d-lineman, the linebackers, the safety and the rest of the kitchen sink.
The best players on a team are its attackers or rather should be. They have the speed, the skill, the guile. Soccer is about scoring. If you do not score, you can never win. You can draw, but you can’t win.
If you have a great attackers–see Fernando Torres at Liverpool–it changes everything–everything–behind them. If you have a boatload, even better.
And if your attackers can be convinced and counted on to in effect be your best defenders?
Note: If you don’t believe me, see Wigan’s win over Manchester United yesterday. Manchester United went 4-6 until the 75th minute, merely trying to move the ball up the floor against the “powerhouse” Latics. Wigan were inspired and their dedication to pressing the weaker players in the back–specifically Jonny Evans–won the day.