02 January 2014

£2m for Berbatov? That could work...

It's the New Year and with it come resolutions for self-improvement and rumors around player movement, each worth less than the paper they're printed on. One of the hottest ideas making the rounds has Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov coming to Arsenal for as little as £2m. While this is hardly the kind of news that would send fans' hopes soaring as they did after the signing of Mesut Özil, you get what you pay for, and considering our needs and options, a cut-rate deal for a fading striker might be just enough to solidify our prospects for the Prem. Thinking realistically, compare the chances of prying the likes of Falcao or Costa or Lewandowski from their clubs mid-season. Bringing in the likes of Berbatov may lack the sexiness of those signings, but I'd wager that it wouldn't be the first time many of us set our sights on an achievable target over the out-of-reach one.

He'll be out of contract in June, so a loan-deal is out of the picture. Fulham are more likely to sell him in order to get something, which is almost always better than nothing. Clint Dempsey's return to Fulham (on loan from the Seattle Sounders) makes Berbatov's departure all the more likely, and the betting parlors rate us as his most-likely destination.

So what would we be getting ourselves into? He's a lazy, aging, former Spud. He turns 33 soon. He plays for a club that has scored 21 goals in 20 matches, and he's scored four in 15 appearances. On those numbers, we might say, why bother? After all, we need someone who can vault us to through the stratosphere, someone who can help us match the goal-scoring of Man City or unlock the bus-parking of Chelsea.

However, he's also scored in three consecutive matches despite not getting much in the way of service, he's familiar with the Prem, and he plays a style that fits in with what we do without too much fussing over bedding in or making adjustments. Like Giroud, he is very good with his back to goal, holding the ball and contributing to the build-up. He might not be lazy; he may just be calm and laconic. His technical skill, whether it's through passing and shooting, are probably superior to Giroud's, at least when Berbatov is engaged, a feeling he might find hard to summon regularly given how Fulham are playing.

It's probably difficult even the most-dedicated and professional footballers, especially one who has won the Prem and a Golden Boot, to lace up and give 110% for a club that is two points above the drop-zone. That reputation for laziness seems to get a little deeper, doesn't it? A little harder to defend as "calm?" Imagine how a January move could reinvigorate the man, even if it does mean he'd have to accept a lesser role in support of Giroud. Heck, he's already being nudged out of a starting role by Adel Taaraby and Hugo Radallega. Coming to the Emirates might inspire Berbatov to play with more hunger and pride (I'm not suggesting he's lost or abandoned those qualities) and to deliver the kinds of moments that convinced Man U to sign him in 2008.

For as much as we might salivate over a more-marquee signing, it's highly unlikely to happen, at least not in January. Come summer, we might be able to dip deeper to find someone a bit more transformative and talismanic. I'd argue that we don't quite need someone like that to finish the season atop the Prem—we've gotten there with the squad we currently have, after all, and have persevered through long injury-spells to key players, including two of our top scorers from last season. Yes, with Giroud and now Bendtner out, we're alarmingly thin at the center-forward position. However, we also have the fresh legs of Podolski and Walcott back, each of whom can serve as a makeshift center if needed. Signing Berbatov, hopefully earlier in the window than we seem to usually operate, would go a long way to reducing the need to play Podolski or Walcott out of position. More importantly, we could find him to be the bargain of the window.

If he made 8-10 starts and replaced Giroud in the second half when suitable, could we get 7-8 goals from him? The service he'd get from our midfield suggest that the answer is yes. The chances he could create for others is another factor that should draw our interest. Along the way, the rest given to Giroud might help him discover his early-season form, which had him score five goals and an assist in his first six matches.

Long story short, why not? He'd cost next to nothing, but if he could rediscover any of the form that once made him a highly-coveted striker. Though he may be in the sunset of his career, I think there's still enough in him to make him a valuable addition. Sign him up, Arsène!