Saturday, 12 December 2009

Shearer-Berbatov: Football's Philosopher Kings

I always enjoy the experience of shifting my views about people and things, especially if the transformation is 180-degree: such changes of heart are what gives God hope for mankind. Initially I took something of a dislike to the Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov as a footballing personality, perhaps in part because he's one of those guys who wears an alice-band in his hair on the pitch, but mainly because of his associations with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, two 'problematic' clubs; and the unsavoury, protracted, big-money saga of his transfer from one to t'other.
Anyhow, what did I know? I was blind, prejudiced - I just never knew Berbatov's hero and role model was Alan Shearer, not until the two sat down for this Football Focus interview, in which Berbatov's quiet-spoken admiration of Al is incredibly and touchingly direct: 'I was a Blackburn fan when you become champions... I was only a fan of Newcastle because you were playing there.' Good lad, that Dimitar.
Shearer compares Berbatov to his old teammate Matt Le Tissier, a hugely gifted player of questionable work-rate. I've always liked players who walk until they absolutely have to run, so long as the eventual running ends up yielding something splendid. (Consider, for one, Zinedine Zidane.) So, in this light, I now rather like Berbatov's style. But I like even better the flabbergasting way he chooses to express his commitment to the aesthetics of the game, namely by quoting Saint Augustine at Shearer: 'Unless there were beauty and grace in them, they would be powerless to win our hearts.' Truly I have never heard the like of it, not even from Eric Cantona... I don't think Al picked up the theological reference, but I hope he made note of it for the future.