The not insignificant number of its participants who want no part in it.
The fact that it has allowed fans, and chairmen, to cultivate the impression that Andre Villas-Boas is a world-class manager.
When the time comes, let all this be offered in evidence against it. Its most grievous and lasting legacy in this country, however, is the merry havoc it has wreaked on the English fixture list.
Once Sky and ESPN have had their pick of games, once the police have had their
say, and once Europa League teams have been given their rest, the Saturday
fixture list resembles a school playground after all the good kids have been
picked. A sort of ghetto of the mediocre.
Which is why last weekend’s Match of the Day felt like such a throwback.
But there was something else, too, that evoked a recent but bygone era: a deep, calming familiarity, yet so transient that it had almost ceased to feel familiar. Its name was Dimitar Berbatov.
You could interpret Berbatov’s two goals for
The frequent criticism of Berbatov is that he is lazy. The fact that
statistics have disproved this time and again — at
In the court of public opinion, Berbatov paid for refusing to play this game. He was a victim of his own sound principles, as well as a little justifiable arrogance. He paid, too, for defying easy categorisation in a country where forwards are often still placed in one of four pigeonholes: ‘Tall/Quick’, ‘Tall/Slow’, ‘Short/Quick’, and ‘Francis Jeffers’.
Instead, Berbatov was a tall striker who preferred the ball to feet, a player who could beat his man without needing to sprint past him, an athlete who never appeared to be running, who smoked publicly and often.
Football’s intelligentsia, keen to analogise the exquisite culture with which he played the game, projected all sorts of enigmatic variations onto him. Much was made of the fact he painted and read, as if these were of the slightest relevance. The truth was far simpler: his exquisite touch came from practising with a basketball while growing up, his carefree attitude a recognition that when you spend your childhood queuing for bread, as Berbatov did in communist Bulgaria, football is but a frippery.
That he ended up on the languid banks of the Thames is no surprise. Fulham has always been a resort for those who had fleeting glimpses of the limelight before deciding they could do without the hassle: Danny Murphy, Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff, Kieran Richardson. Like Hove or Weston-super-Mare, Craven Cottage is where you go for a quiet life.
So much of football is defined by flux. Every passing season brings new faces and new ideas, new sponsors’ patches on referees’ arms. But its familiar figures are just as essential to the game’s vitality, for they offer an essential measure of time. Sundays may be the new Saturdays and Thursdays the new Wednesdays, but there is a certain measure of comfort in knowing Berbatov will always be Berbatov.