So Berbatov Picked Fulham over Juventus
Being a kid in the 90′s without Sky Sports was a cruel existence. Live football was a sparse and rare thing, often confined to Champions League on Wednesday nights, and even that was always Manchester United, something a young Man City fan like me would rather not be put through. So aside from the occasional FA Cup game, I found my refuge in Football Italia, Channel 4′s non-repeated foray into football broadcasting. Presented by James Richardson, reborn these days as the celebrated football weekly podcaster, it would show one live game from Serie A every Sunday. And at the time, this was no small thing. Serie A was the best league in the world, it had Ronaldo (the fat Brazilian one), Zidane, Cafu, Del Piero, Shevchenko. It made the Premier League look immature, positively park-like in comparison. Well, today, Dimitar Berbatov chose to sign for Fulham instead of Juventus. The line has been drawn in the sand, the final page of the book closed on Serie A’s status as a league that mattered.
Of course, the main culprit for Serie A’s decline in stature is clearly the match-fixing scandals, which saw many of the top clubs fall spectacularly from grace; Juventus demoted a division, others fined money and points, and all-around disgrace brought on a league that was less than ten years before the toast of Europe. Now it seems no-one can even buy a vowel. Juventus, who responded to their turbulent recent history by winning the Scudetto unbeaten last season, went into the market to buy a striker this summer, believing the clout of that historic success, Champions League football and a new dawn of sorts would excite big players to come to the club again. So they went after Robin van Persie, but when manager Antonio Conte received a ban after more unearthed match-fixing allegations, any interest van Persie fleetingly showed in Juve disappeared, and off he went to United. Juventus then refocused to Fernando Llorente, and at one point that seemed like a done deal, until it wasn’t. They showed interest in City’s Edin Dzeko, a player on the fringes of the team and presumably listening to offers. Nope.
Dimitar Berbatov must have seemed like a sure thing in their eyes. A player colossally out of favour at Manchester United, available for what in the modern game adds up to pennies. £4 million for a player last bought for 30. Golden. They did this by hijacking a move by Fiorentina, something they can do because they were the champions, sending a private jet to bring Berbatov in for talks. But Berbatov blew off the Italian champions – a phrase I want to keep repeating for sake of severity- preferring instead a move to Fulham. Now, I mean no disrespect to Fulham. They are a club on the up, who have some good players, can play some good football and are a strongly established Premier League team. But they offered Berbatov neither a higher wage, nor offered United a higher price; in fact United seem to have accepted all bids forthcoming. Berbatov chose Fulham out of personal preference. Now even if this is because his family wanted to stay in England as rumoured, or because of a pre-existing relationship with Martin Jol, it’s still a devastating slap in the face to the credibility of Italian football.
Now Juventus are talking about signing Nicklas Bendtner, a player who spent last season at Sunderland. Quite a come down from signing Robin van Persie. This is in the same transfer window that saw AC Milan lose their two marquee international stars Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to PSG, and it begs the question can Italian football attract any kind of top player any more? It’s looking increasingly desperate, the cloud of match-fixing never being able to be cleared and not to mix metaphors, but the top players can sense the ship sinking. I hope that the league can find its way back to those 90′s glory days, but it looks a hard road.