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From Bulgaria With Love: Dimitar Berbatov

The Boot Room

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“A man must face the world with sprezzatura. It literally means detachment, but a better way to think of it is quiet confidence or low key style. The most forceful statement is understatement.” – Luciano Barbera

Dimitar Ivanov Berbatov; erudite yet nonchalant footballer, suave gentleman off the pitch with the grace of a Robert de Niro and Al Pacino love child, wears a suit like a ‘kerchief on a countryside’s chambermaid’s head.

Perhaps it was that night in Turkey against Besiktas when he received a pretty straight forward Robbie Keane pass and jinked inside of one defender and with the slightest of touches swept the ball in the opposite direction to floor another defender and calmly rolled the ball into the net. The vivacious Tottenham supporters knew, Martin Jol knew it and the world knew it, the unhurriedness of the goal, the simplicity and the far away look of almost boredom of the man who conjured it was telling, a microcosm of the footballer, of the man.

He modeled his game alongside the lanky ball of elegance that is Marco Van Basten, game recognizes game. That alone showed what Dimi valued in football; he enjoyed the subtle wizardry, the fun in elegance, the hint of a dribble. Pace and power, the quintessential English power-breakfast of many in the football industry were the furthest facets from Dimitar Berbatov’s almost puritan approach to the game. I struggle to think of a time when I actually saw him run. The game always seemed to slow down to a trot in and around him when he had the ball, as if the opponents were in a trance, spellbound and hypnotized by his delicateness on the ball, beguiled by how he fondled the ball though barely touching it. Was it his body movement? Was it the ball? I haven’t a clue, his touch was so impeccable it reddened Wayne Rooney’s already rosy cheeks just to think of it, but he didn’t always touch the ball, he cajoled it forward gently as if a mother encouraging a babe to take it’s first step.

He was so sublime he was kidnapped by Bulgarian Mafia boss Georgi Iliev in order to convince him to sign for his own team Levski Kjustendil, he is that good. By his own admission he learnt how to speak English by watching the Godfather trilogy and he still retains the thick accent from his hometown of Blagoevgrad, it is hard to not to think of him as a Bulgarian Michael Corleone what with the easy going suave nature and almost perfect gentlemanly manners.

His history has been written about, his style much vaunted and discussed, his footballing prowess somewhat divisive but only the most insular football fan hasn’t been enchanted or doesn’t acknowledge the almost throwback style of player encapsulated by Berbatov the man who seems to have been born in a wrong era, a wrong culture. Hounded out by the English media for his supposed lack of effort, the media so blind sided by the rough and tumble chaotic league around them they couldn’t appreciate a true connoisseur of the game, a one off journeyman who needed to be accommodated to unleash his Einstein but was more often than not pitch forked like a Shrek while the Shrek lounged right under their bile laced pens.

Misunderstood genius are few and far apart, in his element Berbatov influenced more games than many care to admit. Perhaps the only manager to ever fully appreciate him was Martin Jol who allowed him the freedom of the green, a prolific deep lying forward. What he lacked in actual pace he more than made up for mentally, the ability to spot runs and find the runners with the most inventive balls; lofted, slid, outside of the boot, no look, threaded, he had no right to deliver them but he duly did.

He scored his fair share of stunners too, maybe it’s his detached ability regularly termed as inconsistency that denied him entry into the halls of the premier league’s finest. When he wasn’t in the mood he zoned out to more enthralling things, when he was in the mood he scored five in a game. Left out of the champions league final against Barcelona after languidly picking up a golden boot to boot had to be a dagger to his ego, yet not a word of complaint via the media escaped his lips, classy to a fault. His laissez faire attitude always suggested more important things than football like high stake gambling in Monaco or being a Mafia boss in secret. A watered down Michel Angelo in real life, it is on the pitch that fans of the various clubs where he passed by will always remember him serving the subtle hors d’oeuvres during matches before going on to the main course and grabbing games by the scruff of the neck.

“Style is when they are running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade”.

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Crystal Palace

Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente would be the perfect addition for Crystal Palace

The Spaniard still has plenty to offer in the Premier League.

Josh Kerr

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Fernando Llorente
Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur striker Fernando Llorente is among five players expected to leave the Lilywhites this summer as manager Mauricio Pochettino prepares for a summer clear out.

According to The Mirror, Pochettino is ready to listen to offers for the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko.

The 33-year-old has undoubtedly struggled in his time since joining Spurs from Swansea City in 2017. The former Spain international has scored just one Premier League goal and five in 31 appearances, in all competitions, following the move.

Elsewhere in London, the incredible resurgence of Crystal Palace has been orchestrated by the outstanding Roy Hodgson, who has earned plaudits from all corners as his Eagles side finished the season sitting pretty in 11th in the Premier League table.

The former England manager was able to guide the London outfit to safety, despite the team sitting bottom of the league without a win and even a goal after seven games. Avoiding the drop was also achieved without the support of misfiring striker Christian Benteke.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Belgian’s miserable form could leave Hodgson searching for further attacking options in the summer and Llorente would prove the perfect addition at Selhurst Park.

The Spaniard was monumental in his first season in England for Welsh outfit Swansea, firing 15 league goals during his short spell in South Wales.

It could be a real coup for Palace if they play to Llorente’s strengths, and he could be the signing that gets the best out of Benteke, knowing there’s a direct replacement for him if he isn’t meeting the required standards.

The former Sevilla striker was limited to few opportunities under Pochettino, starting just one league game for Spurs. His next move must prioritise finding a manager who believes in his ability and suits the striker’s style of play.

Llorente’s prowess in the air is difficult to match and with Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend supplying the Spanish forward he could be a real goal threat next season.

At the age of 33, Palace would not have to break the bank to add an established attacking option. For a potential small fee, Hodgson should undoubtedly swoop.

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Eight appearances, zero goals: What’s next for failed Tottenham loanee Georges-Kevin N’Koudou?

The 23-year-old has struggled since his move to the Premier League.

Max Cohen

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Georges-Kevin N’Koudou
Photo: Getty Images

When Tottenham Hotspur winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou signed for Burnley on loan in January, there were high hopes that the 23-year-old attacker could finally prove his worth in English football.

However, N’Koudou has tremendously struggled for both playing time and form during his brief time at Turf Moor, and it appears there is no future at White Hart Lane for the Frenchman.

The winger has made just eight appearances for the Clarets and has registered a grand total of zero goals and zero assists.

Frustratingly, Sean Dyche has selected Georges-Kevin N’Koudou in the starting eleven only twice during his loan spell.

The disappointing reality that most of his appearances have come as a substitute is a major factor behind the winger’s ineffectiveness, as it is exceedingly difficult to make an impact on loan when starts are hard to come by.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Things were beginning to look up for N’Koudou in late March and early April when he made consecutive starts against West Bromwich Albion and Watford.

Both matches ended in victory for Burnley, and the winger caught the eye with lively performances full of direct running and pace.

However, when Johann Berg Gudmundsson returned from injury, N’Koudou found himself dropped out of the matchday squad entirely for three matches straight, encapsulating his inconsistent season.

Although the Spurs loanee has returned to make two substitute appearances in Burnley’s recent matches against Brighton and Arsenal, his months at Turf Moor have overall been a frustrating failure.

Signed by Mauricio Pochettino in August 2016 amid much fanfare for £9.4 million pounds, the winger penned a five-year deal in anticipation of a fruitful Tottenham career.

Just under two years later, the challenge of adapting to England seems to have proved too fearsome for the young N’Koudou.

With no future at White Hart Lane next season, a transfer back to his native France might provide the best move for the promising yet ineffective Georges-Kevin N’Koudou.

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West Ham’s decade-long lack of goal scorers summed up by startling figure

Max Cohen

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Photo: Getty Images

During West Ham United’s scoreless draw with Manchester United on Thursday, commentator Peter Drury made an acute observation that revealed the Hammers’ dreadful decade-long goalscoring record.

According to Drury, the last time a West Ham striker scored more than ten goals in a Premier League season was back in the 2006/07 campaign.

That year it was twice-capped England international Bobby Zamora who achieved the feat, bagging 11 goals as the east London club finished 15th.

Yet in West Ham’s ten top-flight seasons that have followed, no Hammers striker has hit the vaunted 11-goal mark, a striking statistic that is a damning indictment of the club’s poor recruitment.

A Guardian investigation conducted in January 2017 found that West Ham had signed an incredible 32 strikers in the seven seasons since David Gold and David Sullivan bought the club.

This list includes massive flops such as Benni McCarthy, Mido, Marouane Chamakh, Mladen Petric, Simone Zaza, and Jonathan Calleri. Shockingly, all of these strikers scored a combined one goal for West Ham.

This season, Marko Arnautovic is on the brink of finally breaking the decade-long duck. The Serbian sits on ten league goals to date, and will have one final opportunity to end the drought against Everton on Sunday.

The fact that it has taken this long to come close to bringing an end to the embarrassing spell is simply unacceptable for a club of West Ham’s stature. The lack of goalscoring strikers is a massive worry for the Hammers that has held them back during their disappointing 2017/18 campaign.

West Ham have scored just 45 goals in 37 matches, an abysmal goal-to-match ratio that has resulted in a poor goal difference of negative 22.

If Arnautovic is to hit 11 league goals for the Hammers this season, then West Ham can finally put a decade of striking embarrassment behind them.

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