Dimitar Berbatov is the latest inductee to The Cult. You can (in fact you must) read our previous entries here.
Cult Grade: The Impossible Beauty of Nature
In the field of writing there are not many others like Haruki Murakami. Or maybe, it's better to say there are many like him but there is only one Haruki Murakami. As novelists go his style is something of an art form. To a reader it comes across as a kind of beautiful dance between ink and page and the colours of his/her own imagination.
Obviously, and by his own admission, what Murakami makes look easy is very hard and takes an infinite level of talent, focus and endurance. Yet, there is no denying, that when you read his novels you're captured by the surface beauty, and there is little thought to the process that has taken place for this level of skill to be performed. This is the way I, and many others, feel about Dimitar Berbatov. There's good reason that his most watched skill video on YouTube is simply titled, Touched Of A God.
Is there a more beautiful footballer with the ball at his feet than Dimitar Berbatov? With the possible exception of Yaya Toure, no. No there is not.
Entry Point: Low
By definition, the entry level of any Premier League footballer (and this is the bulk of Berbatov's career that bears witnessing) is low. Even Titus Bramble is no enigma to the least ardent modern supporter, to whom past knowledge has become a form of social currency.
That said, there is a type of intermediate sophistication at play here. To really appreciate Berbatov requires a modicum of respect for the physicality of the game. It requires the mind of someone who has actually tried to take down a long ball from the back with the front part of your foot only to watch yourself miss, or worse.
READ MORE: The Cult - Matt Le Tissier
One way to expand upon this appreciation is to focus on the entry point itself, simply to describe the way that Berbatov is able to make an impression on an audience. Berbatov, like Murakami, can reduce a game, like a novel, so dependent on the efficiency of many functioning parts, to a single moment of brilliance. It's often a moment so overwhelmingly deft, in equal parts beauty and stupefaction, that it brings together both sets of fans in an over-the-pint gawp that affirms the realness of the moment.
It actually happened; Berbatov actually did that.
What I'm saying is, you need an appreciation for the technical aspects of the game whilst also having watched the Premier League during the late noughties. So, pretty low seems an accurate description of peak Berbatov's entry point. In other words, you know who Berbatov is, you know he played for Spurs, you know he played for United, you know he waltzed around with his ineffable style and good looks like a Cafe Nero poster brought to life.
You know Berba.
The Moment: Fulham v Aston Villa, December 2013
Whilst there are many Berbatov moments, it is not hard to pick the one that best exemplifies what I've described above.
In the following video that's simply titled Sublime touch from Berbatov, we're invited behind the mirror to look at The Berbatov Moment. Everything about the environment that surrounds the skill that we are about to see complements that skill in ways that are first unnoticeable, but afterward pleasantly delicious, like a variety of sauces in which to dip the triple cooked chip that is Berbatov's touch.
The first thing, it's Fulham v Aston Villa. And it's live! Who actually watched this game? Hard to believe this is a fixture that's made it on to Sky Sports, even harder to believe is that Fulham are 2-0 up and it's only 31 minutes in. What has happened in this game? How has Berbatov ended up playing for Fulham? What is going on here?
When the action starts our next piece of succulent background information comes in the form of the pass maker: it's none other than former Champions League winner John Arne Riise. Here he is, doing an LL Cool J at the Cottage, and he's come back without the ginge; instead he's seen here with slick black dyed hair in a kind of emo sweep not too dissimilar from the goth kids in South Park. Our man Riise absolutely lemons a cross-field pass to Berbatov and in doing so slips over onto his arse. This may feel like useless information to you now, but only after Berbatov's touch will these small details seem important.
READ MORE: The Cult - Juninho
The ball is a looping roller-coaster of a pass and quickly disappears out of shot. As it descends, we notice that Berbatov has not moved an inch and is watching the ball descend with the same level of interest as if it were a nearby bird or a disgruntled message written across a sky banner. The ball comes down and he just kills it. It's hard to describe. It's essentially the same technique you're taught to catch cricket balls, bringing your arm down before the catch so as to take the momentum out of the ball, except with your foot.
Only, the technique at play here is imperceptible, it's invisible. It's Berbatovian. It's on another plateau of touch where the normal laws of psychics are modified, footnoted and asterisked to highlight that, whilst these laws do apply to all things, there is to be one exception: Dimitar Berbatov. It's an impossible touch; an object at terminal velocity meeting an immoveable force, except the collision occurs without entropy. There is no displacement of energy. Berbatov has frozen time and gravity in order to pluck the ball out of the air.
This is not something you can really properly describe. Nor is it a fluke, every highlight reel is an index of these fleeting moments. Each one a more momentous and beautiful collision of two objects, foot and ball, than anything so far smashed together by the HLC.
Final Words on Member #19
"Keep Calm And Pass Me The Ball."
Scrawled in marker pen on Berbatov's own undershirt after opening the scoring for Fulham against Southampton.
Words @bainosaurus / Illustration @Dan_Draws