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Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Time reveals Berbatov's true motivation


LONDON — Two months is a long time in the Premier League. At the beginning of November, when rumors started that Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov was unhappy at the club, the Bulgarian's agent, Emil Dantchev, was quick to pour cold water on them.

Christopher Davies

Damien Comolli, the Tottenham sporting director, said: "I met with Dimitar's agent and he assured me Dimitar is not looking for a move in January. He is on a long-term contract with us and (coach) Juande Ramos sees him as an important part of our plans."

Earlier this week, Dantchev had changed his and presumably Berbatov's mind. Dantchev said he had spoken to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about his client's future, adding that his player wanted to join a club with a chance of winning silverware.

"Dimitar wants to fulfill his potential and win trophies now," said Dantchev, a statement which is tantamount to a transfer request. "Fans must understand time is running out for him to play for a club that can match his ambition. I would like to stress this is not about money. This is about sporting ambition.

"But after Tottenham's bad start to the season, it is unlikely they will have the chance to do something big this season."

Let's examine Dantchev's words more closely.

First of all, he must realize that fans also understand that when a player moves to a new club his agent picks up a big fat fee but this, of course, is not on Dantchev's mind. It has probably never occurred to him that he would benefit to the tune of around £1 million ($2 million) while Berbatov's wages would increase.

No, all Dantchev wants for his client is a chance for Berbatov to "do something big" this season.

Tottenham will not win the Premier League, that is true. Maybe it has slipped Dantchev's mind, but Spurs are in the semifinals of the League Cup, so obviously they have a decent chance of bringing some silverware to White Hart Lane from this competition.

They are also in the later stages of the UEFA Cup where they face Slavia Prague, hardly a European heavyweight. Spurs are favorites to progress.

This weekend the F.A. Cup third round gets under way.

Some might say all this rather weakens Dantchev's remarks about doing "something big" — if he is talking about winning the Premier League, then only three teams have shown they can do this, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. However, Tottenham is still in three cups, which Liverpool, to name but one, is not.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Spurs supporters at Saturday's F.A. Cup tie against Reading, which lost 6-4 in the league at White Hart Lane last Saturday. Fans are usually unforgiving when a player wants to leave, so Berbatov should brace himself for a hostile reception.

Hailed as one of the Premier League's finest imports since joining Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen for £10.9 million in the summer of 2006, Berbatov has a reputation of being moody but magnificent, the Bulgarian often seeming disinterested but capable of moments of sublime skill as we saw when he scored four goals against Saturday's visitors a week ago.

Accepting there are lies, damn lies and statistics, his return of 20 goals in 53 Premier League appearances for Spurs is good without quite giving him the goal-every-other-game ratio top strikers achieve, though his record of assists is admirable.

Yet closer examination of Berbatov's goals — how a striker is judged — reveals he generally feasts on lowly clubs or generous defenses such as Reading's.

In fact, Berbatov has only scored twice against top six sides — in the 2-1 defeat at Everton last season and the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal on Dec. 22.

Only twice has Berbatov scored the winner for Spurs in the Premier League, at Portsmouth two weeks ago and in the last game of 2006-07 against Manchester City.

Last season he scored at home against relegated Sheffield United and Charlton (home and away), plus Wigan (home and away), which survived the drop on goal-difference. But in 10 games against the "Big Four" of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Berbatov has managed only what amounted to a consolation goal at Emirates Stadium.

Not that such statistics will bother Berbatov's agent, because when the January transfer window arrives it is time for business.

Nicolas Anelka claimed two clubs are talking to Bolton about a possible transfer, but chairman Phil Gartside said this was rubbish (he used a stronger word actually).

It's transfer window time and the agents are up and running.

* * * * *

WHY ON earth did Carlos Tevez think it would be a good idea to celebrate his winning goal for Manchester United against Birmingham by putting a dummy in his mouth?

Talk about dummier and dumber.

It was, he explained, to pay homage to his wife, and daughter Florencia age 2, who were watching the game back home in Argentina. He placed the dummy in his shorts and when he scored took it out and placed it in his mouth.

It looked ridiculous and is further evidence of how goalscoring these days is becoming an individual matter rather than something to celebrate with your teammates.

Players always say it doesn't matter if they score as long as the team wins but then go to extreme lengths to plan and practice individual celebrations.

When the ball goes in the net, too many don't bother to share the joy of scoring with their teammates. Instead they start a pre-rehearsed dance, some obscure sign with their hands and fingers — or stick a dummy in their mouth.

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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