Dimitar Berbatov: A Retrospective

When Manchester United closed in on a £30.75 million club record signing of Tottenham’s Dimitar Berbatov in September 2008, just as Manchester City arrived on the world football scene with an ill-fated splurge on Robinho, it appeared to many that the silky Bulgarian would be the focal point of a United team already boasting world class strikers Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez.


Cut to August 2012, and United complete a stunning £24 million signing of another North London icon in Arsenal captain Robin van Persie. Manchester City are now Premier League champions and posses among their artillery Carlos Tevez. The red half of Manchester, now feverish in their mission to wrestle supremacy back from the Sky Blues, have had four years out of their most expensive ever purchase. All four seasons have been increasingly frustrating for all parties, and it’s finally becoming clear that a now fifth-in-the-pecking-order Berbatov will get his wish and depart Old Trafford.

Who’s to blame for the four years of frustration? As always with a player struggling for their best form, they must first be examined themselves. It’s true that Berbatov has never managed the imperious form of his days at Spurs which earned them such a hefty transfer fee from United. It’s true that he’s always suffered under Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred system. It’s true that he’s often looked lacklustre, limp, and most of all, the official word used by the media for our Dimi, ‘languid’.

But what about the club? Nothing about the great man was a secret before United threw him in a car and rushed him through a last-minute medical. His style of play, you would only assume, had been scrupulously accessed by the club’s scouts – as well as Sir Alex – before the release of the Glazers’ borrowed bucks was sanctioned on the player. Unless you’re a Premier League club running on the oily funds of Chelsea or City, you don’t spend such a significant transfer fee unless you’re confident the signing will fit the brand of football your side is going to play. It would have been a very watertight argument for the former Bayer Leverkusen star to have uttered the words ‘what the fuck?’ towards the management six months into his time in Manchester. (more…)


Gameweek 1: Tricky Toffee

The Premier League season started at the weekend, and it was a bad day for a couple of new managers. Brendan Rodgers started his tenure as Liverpool manager with a tragic 3-0 defeat at the hands of luckier new boy Steve Clarke’s West Brom. Andre Villas-Boas, Paul Lambert, and his replacement at Norwich, Chris Hughton, all missed out on getting points on the board in their opening games in charge too. Those vile pigs who insist on attending such matches and booing will no doubt be calling for those bosses’ heads if they don’t turn things around fast, as hostile fans’ Team GB ‘tried our best’ spirit departs with their wives’ interest in them.

Mark Hughes will possibly be the most distraught, however, as his QPR side which continues to see significant investment were thrashed 5-0 by Michael Laudrup’s new splendid looking Swansea side. Two new defenders on the way it is, then. Wenger might also be perturbed that his side couldn’t stifle doubters of his side’s potency post-RvP, as his side drew 0-0 against Sunderland. The biggest blow of the opening round of games, though, was surely dealt to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Marouane Fellaini’s solitary goal against Manchester United saw the Reds fall three points behind the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, two wins out of two and one win out of one respectively, at the first hurdle. The gangly Belgian trouble-maker demonstrated exactly what last season’s runners-up have lacked for so long: a midfielder able to take the game by the scruff of its baron neck and break the opposition’s precious little hearts.

In an explosive opening round of fixtures, with its shoves on linesmen from crooked cockneys and all, one thing’s for sure. We’re glad to have you back, Barclays Premier League. Even when our team does so fucking lousily in their opening match, after a close season of so much promise. Oh, how we adore you so.


Departin’ Barton

You only need to check Twitter, Joey Barton’s personal bullshit syphon, to know it’s been a turbulent 24 hours for the Premier League’s resident criminal.

It all started rather normally. A tweet about his radio station of choice, a round of golf, and presumably a quick run through his Nietzsche flash cards over a bowl of mealworms. It then became clear, however, that current club QPR’s newly announced squad numbers for this season saw new signing Ryan Nelsen assigned Barton’s number 17 shirt.

The pertinent nudge towards the exit door was met with a breezy response by the serial Tweeter and GBH specialist, as he mused, “life goes on.”

Indeed it does, as not long after the squad number snub came news of a loan bid illogical enough to make real life feel like Football Manager. Marseille are said to have made an offer to take Barton off QPR’s hands for a year.

As it seems to be the done thing nowadays, we’ve followed tabloid newspapers’ lead and mocked up our very own imagining of what the Scouse schemer would look like in a Marseille shirt. Using the body of Mathieu Valbuena as he has a similar skin tone, we are able to bypass any form of meaningful analysis, and instead give the public what they want. Stop! Don’t use your mind to think about what he would look like in a different shirt. Look! This is what he would look like!

Would Joey Barton be good for Marseille? Well, Joe Cole didn’t fare badly in a better team during his loan spell at Lille, so there’s always a chance that Barton could take this challenge and make a cult hero of himself in France. The safer money is on him knocking seven shades of shit out of Loic Remy in training and returning to England as a tag wearing road sweeper shouting Smiths lyrics at businessmen.


Feel the Berne

So close to the start of the new Premier League season, this fixture genuinely looked like an erroneous calendar entry by the FA. It went ahead nonetheless, and offered some players the opportunity of one last push for full fitness before the main event gets underway this weekend.

I’m sure some importance was placed on England’s friendly versus their Euros penalty conquerers Italy last night, whether it be for some of the new breed such as Jack Butland and Tom Cleverley, a bored Roy Hodgson, or a few Ingerland devotees who never miss an opportunity to shout the tune of “Ring of Fire” until they choke on their own bile.

A cobbled together England side, now somehow ranked third in the world, relied on Phil Jagielka and Jermain Defoe (you really could have picked two names at random from a pool of about 50 English footballers of fairly equal ability) to earn hollow revenge against a similarly random combination of Italian players, in the thematically random country of Switzerland.

The match’s importance was eclipsed by Manchester United’s announcement of the imminent arrival of Robin van Persie, but the headline maker of this friendly looked likely to be another former City target. Daniele De Rossi put Italy ahead on 15 minutes. But, in an aptly named Wankdorf Stadium, Jagielka pulled it back just over ten minutes later.

Jermain Defoe is currently Tottenham’s only distinguished goalscorer, so the perpetually vinegar shouldered Andre Villas Boas will be heartened to see he still has the composure to win games late on. Substitute Defoe’s goal came with just over ten minutes to go, resulting in a presumably positive 2-1 victory for Roy Hodgson’s travelling plodders. Roy can now look forward to watching lots of Premier League matches and trying to work out which English players are fractionally more cap-worthy than the rest. It’s your time to shine, Steve Sidwell!


Get in the Van

Remember the inflammatory nature of Mikael Silvestre’s switch to the Gunners a few years back? The streets of Manchester strewn with burning effigies of the heavy-skulled goal prevention unit, the Emirates ensconced in home made banners with ‘Welcome to North London’ painted across them in human blood, and the torrential chants, oh, how they made chants. Well, Arsenal, now you know how it feels! It looks almost certain now that last season’s top scorer and truffle footed silver-haired fox Robin van Persie will join Manchester United, for a fee of up to £24 million, after the club officially announced the agreement with Arsenal on their website yesterday evening.

A four-year contract is believed to have been offered to the Dutch gentleman, who looks set to join former Dortmund maestro Shinji Kagawa and Inbetweeners extra Nick Powell in Sir Alex Ferguson’s bid to stop the rot.

It was beginning to look like another suspicious transfer window for United. With Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric, and most recently, Lucas Moura all being linked over the past few transfer windows, the skeptics could put a case together for the club simply making nonchalant bids here and there to keep up appearances. This would show United’s fans that they’re still willing to spend, as they’re publicly bidding big bucks for top players, but in the full knowledge it won’t really come off.

Well, if this is their strategy, their latest bluff has been called by Arsenal, who have finally decided to sell their club captain. Gunners fans will be understandably distraught that yet another of their finest players has lost patience with Wenger’s plans and moved on, but United fans may be slightly perplexed themselves.

After that unfathomably unnerving footage of the Glazers officially putting 10% of the club on the New York stock market, feverishly ringing some loony bell and throwing demented grins towards a crowd of cheering businessmen in a scene that was only missing confetti for it to be mistaken for a zany gameshow, the tenuous finances at United under their American owners is beginning to show more and more transparency. So what are they doing signing a 29-year-old with a longstanding relationship with the treatment table?

That, for now at least, is all a little bit grown up for any United fan to trouble themselves with. The current situation stands thus: Robin van Persie will be lining up for the red half of Manchester this season. He might get a lot of injuries, and he might get distracted by lucrative marketing deals with Just for Men, but the prospect of him at his best represents a sumptuous catch. It all feels a little bit unreal. Dimitar Berbatov declined to comment when asked about the news, but he did roll his eyes before returning to his Anna Karenina paperback.


Not Apache on City

Yeah. We’re back. Today’s football season opener came in the shape of a glaringly Manchester United-free Community Shield clash between Chelsea and Manchester City, horrific winners of the FA Cup and Premier League respectively.

A lot of talk about Chelsea in the close season has come in the form of ponderment over Abramovic’s plans vis-a-vis the use of the host of lightweight attacking midfield talent he’s brought in. As he bides his time for John Terry to break Bob Di Matteo’s spirit and for Pep Guardiola to get bored of downing Bacardi Breezers and shagging whatever comes his way on the Magaluf strip (or whatever he’s doing to unwind), he’s shelled out big bucks on the likes of Eden Hazard (and his little brother), Marko Marin and Oscar.

A lot of talk about City in the close season has come in the form of bemusement over their hesitancy in the transfer market. Assuming HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan couldn’t give a shit what Michel Platini thinks, it seems that Bob Mancini’s frustration that his fruitless tree-sheikhing is a result of the ownership believing that their current squad is already more-or-less equipped to defend the title. Jack Rodwell should be signed up for the Sky Blues today, lining us up for a thrilling Community Shield that we’re not going to cover very thoroughly at all quite nicely.

Yes, Tevez has returned to football with a spring in his step for this season. Like a prisoner on Guantanamo Bay, for years dreaming of making a cunning, Tim Robbins inspired getaway, it seems the forever-jaded harmony-harvester has reached the stage of acceptance that no team willing to sacrifice their values in return for signing a world-class goalscorer feels like stumping up the required cash.

As a result, Carlos has shed at least a stone, and by the looks of it has rediscovered top form on the back of his signs of promise shown at the tail-end of last season. Swapping hog roast breakfasts for All-Bran, he was to share many of today’s plaudits with fellow goalscorer Yaya Toure, as City won the game 3-2.

Chelsea, after scoring the opening goal through a possibly reinvigorated Fernando Torres (you never can tell), soon began to falter from the moment Branislav Ivanovic’s dangerous challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov won him a red card in the first half.

The second half saw City slowly take advantage of their extra oil-purchased man and goals from Toure, Tevez and Nasri allowed them to coast to the first piece of silverware of the season.

Ryan Bertrand capitalised on a sloppy spillage by Costel Pantilimon, City’s burk of a stand-in goalkeeper, to make it 3-2 on 80 minutes, but that was not enough to keep the bizarre Romanian from being allowed to paw at the shield among his more worthy colleagues when the final whistle blew.


Geordie Sure: Can Newcastle Maintain Their Current Form?

Fourth in the league with four wins and four draws from their opening eight games (thought we should cover the numbers early to indulge the rest of the article with ill-researched opinions), Newcastle United have started their Premier League campaign with aplomb.

Sunday’s home draw against Spurs strengthened the Magpies’ credentials as Europa League qualification contenders this season, with Pardew’s men boasting an efficient defence and a surprisingly dangerous attacking threat. All this, and they have lost their supposedly best players over the last 12 months in Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton.

In fact, sections of the Toon faithful were in despair at what they saw as a lack of investment in the summer. The football pundits in general focused mainly on a failure to land a striker to replace their lanky lager lout target man since his £35 million move to Liverpool. The overlooking of Demba Ba’s arrival was no less than puzzling to those who noticed him proving his Premier League credentials with West Ham last season, but he has shown himself to be a super investment after bagging five already.