It’s difficult to make an appraisal of a player’s value to his club after only one season—that is, if the player is a 25-year-old or even a 28-year-old.
Just look at Antonio Valencia; one fantastic season for Manchester United that won him the famous number seven shirt, only for his next season’s form to be so bad that he reverted back to his former number 25.
But 32-year-old Dimitar Berbatov is a player Fulham manager Martin Jol will be looking at very closely.
Fulham are clearly in the market for a striker as evidenced by their failed bids to bring Darren Bent to Craven Cottage, and with Marcello Trotta back from his loan at Brentford the Bulgarian will be looking over his shoulder.
Signed for £4.4 million from Manchester United last summer after struggling to feature regularly enough in Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans, Berbatov found a new lease of life in West London. As a result we witnessed a far more spritely and energised version of a player who was so often described as languid.
Obviously buoyed by his new status as the star striker, Berbatov covered the pitch in a manner rarely, if ever, seen at United and Tottenham Hotspur—he could almost have been a different man altogether.
The vitality in Berbatov’s game translated into goals, 15 of them in 33 matches to be precise—a very good return for his relatively low price. However, with the uncontrollable creep of age on a player come the doubts of his manager, who will then seek to—sometimes reluctantly—pave the way for new blood.
Although their attempts to land Bent were unsuccessful, Fulham will most likely bring in an alternative before the end of the transfer window. That does not mean Berbatov’s days are over, at least not for the moment.
A veteran player of 252 goals from 550 games in all competitions for top-tier clubs, plus a couple of Premier League titles and a World Club Championship victory, Berbatov will remain important to the development of Fulham even if his considerable ability starts to falter.
Younger players could learn a thing or two from someone with one of the best first touches in football, but that is not the entire picture.
Berbatov’s trademark, however unwanted, is to appear uninvolved for long periods before popping up with a moment of sheer brilliance.
At Fulham this label has peeled a little, but if his fitness levels do begin to drop, unlike most players he can rely on his knack of being in the right place at the right time without breaking sweat. Perhaps the years of minimal running effort may benefit his career in the long-term as his legs will not be quite as battered as the majority of players.
Furthermore, Fulham have a top-class striker on their books, and as long as Berbatov continues to perform they can use this to attract other quality players.
Even if he does begin to feature less frequently, he will continue to be a great presence at the training ground for the young forwards—anyone who knows their football would jump at the chance to learn from and work with Dimitar Berbatov.
Teammates will hope that is at least a couple of years in the future. Judging by last season, Berbatov is relishing his freedom on the pitch and will have a few more tricks up his sleeve before calling it a day.
But the real winners are Jol and Fulham. Regardless of how Berbatov’s form fluctuates—barring a 20-game goalless run or something equally unthinkable—he remains an asset.
Experience, star quality, a colourful career and shirt sales all serve their purpose for a football club, especially when they were purchased at such a bargain price.
Can you imagine another Premier League season top-scorer of the last few years—such as Robin van Persie, who is only two years younger than Berbatov—going for a price as low as Fulham had to pay?
So, Berbatov’s value to Fulham? If you don’t know the answer, just look at his scoring stats.
All stats are courtesy of Transfermarkt unless linked otherwise.