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Cash, caches, cachet and catches: A soccer comedy

30 August 2012

Berbasmoke

A poster on the Friends of Fulham message board made an interesting side point today about Fulham’s status as a mid-table feeder club. With so much focus on the sale of Moussa Dembele and how a quaint side like Fulham can’t afford to keep promising talent without the allure of Champions League participation or huge wages, the Cottagers actually have evolved into a club with a bipolar acquisition strategy. The last four seasons of solid league finishes along with the miracle run to the 2010 Europa League final have given Fulham enough cachet that the club is now able to attract slightly past-their-prime players who are still more-than-good enough to ply their trade at the top level.

The most interesting validation of this theory is the alleged snagging of former Premiership goal scoring champ Dimitar Berbatov, who appears set to move from Manchester United to the banks of the Thames for less than 5m pounds as United looks to shed Berbatov’s 100,000-pound-a-week contract from their wage bill. Martin Jol said earlier this month that Fulham was a club that couldn’t afford to buy talent when it was playing well, so he had to go find talented players who were coming off poor seasons. Mladen Petric is one example and Berbatov, a classy finisher who has been pegged as indifferent and glued to the United bench like a sponsorship logo, is certainly another.

There’s no doubt that Fulham should roll the dice on a player of Berbatov’s raw skill for such a small price, but what really intrigues me about this deal is that one of the people who stuck Berbatov with the indifferent label is … Martin Jol. Jol, who brought Berbatov to Tottenham as manager there, had a famous sideline snit with Berbatov after the Bulgerian maybe/sort of/kind of refused to warm up for a substitute appearance. After Jol was fired in 2007, he provided Sky Sports with a few choice words about that incident, and Berbatov in general:

“He never said he didn’t want to come on, but that’s how it has been perceived. But that’s Berbatov, he always seems reluctant to do anything.

Sounds like Jol enjoyed managing him. Oh wait, there’s more…

“Gifted, yes. But he is not a fighter. Perhaps you need others who are fighters to balance out the team.”

Ouch. Yes, it appears Fulham will be signing a striker that Jol essentially called a p—- five years ago.

That history adds an amazing dimension to what was a hilarious afternoon of reaction after Berbatov more or less blew off Serie A club Fiorentina to discuss a deal with Juventus, and then turned down the storied Milan Turin club for Fulham. Paraphrasing, here is the gist of the reaction from all interested parties:

Average soccer fan: “Wait, he’s signing with who? Seriously? WTFLOLROFL.”

Juventus: “Fulham? Again?? Dempsey’s chip wasn’t enough?!? Now we’re going to have to fix some more matches.”

Fiorentina: “BLEEP YOU. NO SERIOUSLY, BLEEP ALL Y’ALL. NO PURPLE FOR YOU!”

Martin Jol: “I have always loved Dimitar.” (slowly uncrosses fingers behind his back)

So, yes, marriages of convenience can be fun. Fulham takes a really worthy, cheap gamble on a talented striker who’s wife wanted to stay in England. Hopefully, there will be a press conference with a smiling Jol and Berbatov holding one of Fulham’s funky new orange kits, and neither will make any mention of what a simple Google search can yield. The Cottagers still need a central midfielder who can play on the ball, but for now, they’ll make do with the man who spawned an ongoing spoof column at Yahoo’s Dirty Tackle.

They say comedy equals tragedy plus time. In this case, 24 hours appears to have been enough.

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