Sunday 17 December 2017

Zamora points the way to Berbatov's resurrection

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

FOR about 15 years, I have eaten four Weetabix every morning for breakfast which, at a rough calculation, comes to something approaching 20,000 of the things. Yet despite what should be a decreasing enjoyment, if the Runner Girl (is it only female columnists who can use capitalised, in-joke nicknames?) has decided to help herself to one, two or even three of them, the knowledge that there is an uneven number in the packet is disconcerting.

Anybody else who is similarly afflicted can attest to the despair of reaching for the box only to find one lonely biscuit remaining or, in the case of Corn Flakes, the powdery bits that stick to your teeth.

The feeling of irritation towards the cereal offender can take a while to diminish.

Of course, these problems can be solved by a trip to the shop yet, of all meals, breakfast is the most repetitive and regular -- in every sense of the word for those who have consumed 20,000 Weetabix. Most people's daily lives are built on a foundation of routine to the point where they can feel out of kilter for the day if their morning -- without a cup of coffee or favourite breakfast -- has been different than usual.

It's the same story with following football this season where so many of the things people were sure about have blown up in their faces.

Arsenal have had more ill-timed obituaries written about them than were in the Sunday papers for a certain person around this time a couple of millennia ago. Like Him, it turns out they could have a previously persecuted hero come good in the guise of Nicklas Bendtner who, as he did again on Saturday, finds himself in the role of saviour. He's also seems to be better on crosses than he realised.


Conventional wisdom goes that Arsenal need a striker, even though they are the third highest scorers in the league or that they can't win the title because they lost against their closest rivals. Last season they took five points off Manchester United, four from Liverpool and three from Chelsea but were never even on the radar of the trophy engravers, but why let awkward counter-arguments get in the way of a well-established opinion?

On Saturday, the certainty at Old Trafford was that United would equalise against Chelsea because that's what they've been doing since the Premier League began. After not playing particularly well, the red tide begins to gather and the waves of inevitability crash against the opposing defence resulting in an equalising or winning goal which, while frustrating for non-United supporters, is also strangely comforting and takes them back 17 years to Steve Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday.

At the end of such seasons, United can point to their unlikely hero, such as Federico Macheda last year against Aston Villa or John O'Shea at Anfield in 2007, as the moment that they knew their name was once again on the trophy.

On Saturday, that moment arrived for Dimitar Berbatov to become the world's most expensive unlikely hero but, as his scuffed volley hit the turf and then Petr Cech's hands, United's injury-time aura faded a little further into the past.

Those who thought of United as a one-man team because of Cristiano Ronaldo have been forced to admit their mistake but only because they've become a one-man team with Wayne Rooney instead.

Their record without Rooney is reasonably impressive against lesser teams but when Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still in the starting line-up for their most important game of the season, it speaks volumes about those who have been signed to replace them.

Assuming Rooney is still out, Alex Ferguson will have no choice but to start Berbatov against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night and the Bulgarian will have one more chance to prove to the doubters that he is not just a £30m man for the small occasion.

If he can't, and United are eliminated, the reducing power of the Premier League's European juggernaut can be added to this season's list of casualties for things that seemed so certain.

Having smelled themselves for several years over the number of teams in the quarter and semi-finals, the self-styled "best league in the world" now finds itself with the strong possibility of having no representation in the Champions League final for the first time in six years and no team in the final four, which hasn't happened since 2003.

If Berbatov needs some inspiration of a player who can go from a figure of fun to a figure of fear, he should tune in on Thursday night to watch Bobby Zamora continue as the most unexpectedly deadly phenomenon to go through Europe since the Black Death.

No player, or team, encapsulates the game's current strangeness better than Zamora and Fulham, who are one draw against Wolfsburg away from a place in the semi-finals of a European competition from a campaign which began on July 30.

The all-round niceness of everything about the club, from their ground to their manager and style of play, means Fulham have been patronised for a long time but, by underestimating them, both Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus have left London with their tails between their legs.

His 18 goals this season might not be enough to earn a justified international call yet they have at least silenced the supporters who, until this season, could justifiably chant: "If you sit in Row Z and the ball hits your head, that's Zamora".

He has already made Fabio Cannavaro look like a frightened Sunday League player and if he can lead Fulham to a European final, everything we thought we knew will have been rendered redundant.

Whatever he's having for breakfast, we'll all want some.

Irish Independent

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