COS Contributor Mark McAllister wonders why the Bulgarian striker appears to have more detractors by the day.
Dimitar Berbatov and Andrei Arshavin are unquestionably two of the most technically gifted players in the Premier League. They’re both important creative influences at their respective clubs but both regurlarly find themselves being accused of contributing very little for long periods in matches, and yet one is a seemingly-untouchable media darling (Arshavin) whilst the other is dismissed as a failure (Berbatov). Why is this?
Their league statistics so far this season:
Berbatov: 12 starts, 17 appearances, 6 goals, 3 assists
Arshavin: 15 starts, 17 appearances, 6 goals, 2 assists
As you can see, considering the fact that Berbatov has been carrying a troublesome knee injury since October, his contribution (at least statistically) actually looks marginally better. Neither are goalscoring strikers in the traditional sense, at least not in the roles they are used in with their current clubs. Berbatov is generally used at United as a deep-lying creative forward, almost in a traditional “number 10” role at times, whereas Arshavin is an inside forward similar to how Thierry Henry operates at Barcelona, although he’s currently spending a lot of his time as the main striker in the absence of Robin Van Persie.
So why is there such a difference in general opinion? Both pop up with important goals and assists, whether it’s defiantly refusing to accept defeat away to Liverpool with four goals in a single match, or Berbatov somehow managing to either score or assist almost every single goal in United’s long run of winning games 1-0 midway through last season.
One major difference between the two players is their price tag. Arshavin cost just £12million, which in today’s market is an incredibly modest sum for such an experienced, talented player. Berbatov, however, was said to have cost around £28million so perhaps a lot of supporters would have expected a similar contribution to that of Fernando Torres of Liverpool. However, it’s important to consider that not only do clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona have to pay over the odds for players anyway, but that Arshavin had actively been seeking a move and discussing a potential transfer with various clubs for the best part of a year whereas Tottenham Hotspur are a notoriously stubborn, hard-to-deal-with club when it comes to selling their prized assets (see Michael Carrick).
Another issue is the thought that Manchester United no longer player exciting football, and this is often put down to Berbatov’s languid style of play. However, I’d suggest there is a much deeper reason for this change in style – Ferguson’s desperation to match Liverpool’s European Cup total before he retires. United now play a far slower, less risky possession-orientated game in order to make themselves harder to beat. Too often in the past have they found themselves looking naive in Europe as their gung-ho style lead to their downfall against the wiley old European giants, so now Fergie is looking to correct this. Berbatov seemed the perfect signing for this new regime – he’s big, strong, can hold the ball up well, has great vision and is an accomplished passer.
The final reason is simply that Arshavin is “cute” whereas Berbatov is perceived as a big, lazy, lumbering Bulgarian with greasy hair. Arshavin immediately became a fan favourite as soon as he stepped outside The Emirates Stadium for the first time, holding an Arsenal shirt and cheekily saying “I am Gooner”, whereas ol’ Berba is a quiet, mysterious man who likes to keep his thoughts to himself.
The reasons for the difference in perception are perhaps understandable, but ultimately when you consider their actual footballing contributions, they are extremely harsh.