Sport Soccer

Friday 23 February 2018

Ferguson's key signing just couldn't be arsed

Tommy Conlon

The black joke doing the rounds among Manchester United fans this week is that if all else fails, maybe Nama will take Dimitar Berbatov off their hands.

Predictably, it has prompted talk of zombie footballers, toxic liabilities and a severe financial 'haircut' for the club that forked out nearly 31 million for his services in August 2008.

And that was 31 million pounds sterling, queen's head, English brass, for a player who wouldn't run ten yards, even if it was just to keep himself warm. Over 35 million euro for a player too lazy to scratch himself, more than 47 million US dollars for someone whom, if there was work in the bed, would sooner sleep on the floor.

And we'd imagine he has treated himself to a fairly comfortable cot all the same, given that he is believed to be trousering £100,000 a week, just for strolling around with a hump on his back, gripping the cuffs of his jersey like a man permanently paralysed by the cold. And that's a hundred grand net, straight into the pocket, while the likes of Ji-Sung Park wears himself out doing the running for both of them.

But hold on, sez you, that's capitalism, innit? And, more to the point, football capitalism, the bubble that keeps on bubbling, the one property balloon that will seemingly never burst.

And aha, sez you again, Park is graft, Berb is craft; Park is artisan, Berb is artist; Park carries the piano, Berb plays it. To which we can only reply: he does in his hole. He'd be too lazy to lift the lid, so Park would have to do that too. His fingers would be too cold, so Park would have to blow on them. He'd sit on the stool but order Park to jump into the piano and play every note.

And if the audience were to throw bouquets on stage, Berbatov wouldn't bend his back to pick them up. No, he'd have Park doing that too. And if there were groupies at the stage door, he'd be ordering Park to do the necessary there as well. Truly, if the hoor were any lazier he'd collapse into a coma.

And he was bought by Alex Ferguson, of all people, who described Berbatov as "a key signing". If Fergie had a choice now, he'd lock the door and throw away the key -- with the Berb inside and crying for his faithful manservant.

On Wednesday night, the key signing was left on the bench for a player who could barely walk only a few days earlier. But Wayne Rooney on a leg and a half was considered better value for a do-or-die Champions League quarter-final than the Bulgarian with a heart the size of a granule of sugar.

Ferguson waited until the 80th minute to send him on, with United a man down and needing a goal, knowing in his soul that this was the last man you should be turning to in your hour of need. The home crowd knew it too; instead of being a call to arms, Berbatov's arrival only deepened the gloom.

Yes indeed, things have come to that doleful place they call the sorry pass when the 47 million dollar man is the harbinger of doom rather than the torch of hope. Only four days earlier they'd seen him meander through another season-defining game, against Chelsea at Old Trafford, as if the importance of it all just hadn't really dawned on him.

We tried to imagine the post-match conversation in the dressing room. Gary Neville: "Dimi, that match out there could've been the title decider, man! This was make or break for the season." Berbatov: "Jeez, sorry Gaz, how was I supposed to know?"

It is a terrible thing to be the repository of so many hopes and dreams and not to even know it. Millions of fans investing all their emotions in a player who remains magnificently oblivious to their needs. There must be a serious self-awareness deficit here; otherwise he'd make a token effort at least, if for no other reason but shame.

Or maybe it is the arrogance of the aristocrat, a man who from youth has been told he will

inherit the earth because of his style and elegance and artistry. Perhaps he has had courtiers dancing around him since first he laced his boots, flattering him because of his talents, all the while indulging his idleness.

And if someone like Ferguson, with his puritan work ethic, can be seduced by Berbatov's moments of sublime intervention, however infrequent, then there's not much incentive for the player to change his ways.

One goal or two can decide a game so one or two moments of magic from a rare talent are enough, apparently, to justify the money and the attitude. But it can be a long waiting game, during which time vital matches come and go without any notable contribution from the gilded one.

Bayern Munich forked out an estimated €25 million for Arjen Robben last August. He showed a few flashes of his class but was otherwise dormant for most of the match on Wednesday night. Then he produced the masterful volley that sealed the deal. Then he was taken off, job done. That's what they pay for, that's what they wait for.

In Manchester, even Mr Park may finally be running out of patience.

Sunday Independent

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