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Could Dimitar Berbatov return to Tottenham Hotspur?

As the days turn to hours, hours to minutes; the transfer window is edging closer to slamming shut. After an early flutter of movement, Tottenham Hotspur have gone quiet in their summer movements. Fans are championing for a striker and with it, Daniel Lipman analyses whether a controversial move for Dimitar Berbatov would be a viable option…

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As the seconds on the clock of Big Ben start ticking away, it is getting closer and closer to Tottenham Hotspur’s transfer window, the one which is open only for the last 15 minutes of August that Spurs seem to frequent all too regularly. With two strikers and a holding midfielder wanted, who comes in at this point is anyone’s guess.

Spurs have been, if you believe the blank verse and myth in the papers, trying to broker deals for Joao Moutinho to replace the departing Luka Modric, as well as Emmanuel Adebayor and Leandro Damaio, to improve the attacking options. It does seem, however, that the deal for Adebayor is being held up by financial terms and though many believe it will go through, it is looking less and less likely that player or club will back down from their positions which begs the question who else could come in?.

One of the truisms which dominates the landscape of modern football analysis is the adage never go back. We can all cite various examples of club legends that left a club and returned only for their status to be diminished. With that in mind this may seem like an odd belief, but personally I feel Spurs should make a move for the mercurial Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov if they cannot push a deal for Adebayor through.

I must state here that I do not see him as the perfect cure to what ails Spurs at this current time, but this prodigal son could be a very good and experienced alternative to the hopefully incoming Leandro Damiao, who will need time to settle. The former lilywhite is destined for the exit at Old Trafford having been demoted to 5th choice after the headline grabbing move for Robin Van Persie. With a price tag rumoured to be a lowly £5m he could prove to be a bargain, especially when it is considered that he was sold by Spurs for a princely sum of over £30m only four years ago.

Do Spurs Need a Striker?

It would be fair to claim that the lack of striking options has gone from a mild concern to fans of the North London club to an annoyance, to a symbolic representation of all the problems which are endemic at the club. Only five years ago, Spurs went into a season with the options of Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, but this season have only Defoe and Harry Kane as potential options to play upfront.

Defoe is not suited to the lone striker rule despite the vast improvements in his hold up and link up play over the last two years, with his average pass completion rate improving from 78.2 % in 2009/10 to 82.5% in 2011/12 (though I am intrigued by the possibility of utilizing him in an inside left role similar to that of David Villa at Barcelona). Despite Defoe being an excellent servant to the club, the fact remains that at the very highest level he is most suited to the role of impact sub that he performed so excellently against Italy for England this week.

His razor sharp finish was a pure distillation of what the pint size finisher can be capable of. However, he is far more effective coming into games where he can use his pace and low centre of gravity against stretched and tiring defenses, something highlighted by the fact that he currently holds the Premier League record for most goals as a substitute, the same record he is currently in possession of for the national team.

While Kane, despite exciting on a loan move at Millwall in the second half of last season, where his goals fired them to safety, lacks experience at the highest level and it would be an incredible risk for Andre Villas-Boas to trust him over the course of a season to lead the line at such a tender age.

With this in mind, if we are to assume Defoe will be staying, Spurs need two strikers. Fans are excited by the idea of the likes Leandro Damiao, my personal preference, Fernando Llorente or a returning Adebayor,  but the reality is that probably only one of these strikers will be coming to White Hart Lane this summer at most.

With a strict wage structure and plans for a new stadium abound, Spurs have to be careful with what they spend and a big name striker is both costly in terms of wages and fees. Of course this is the sort of rhetoric which can be filed neatly as being part of false economy rhetoric; with a striker being needed desperately, if Spurs are to have even the remotest possibility of qualification for the Champions League and the untold riches and prestige which follow.

Furthermore, factoring in the Modric money, which will imminently be burning a hole in Spurs spendthrift chairman’s pocket,  expect a new signing in the immediate future to augment Spurs’ currently undermanned frontline.

What about Emmanuel Adebayor?

The striker impressed for most of last season; the powerful Togolese international formed an effective understanding with Defoe and Rafael van der Vaart and was integral, especially the first half the season, where Spurs went on a club Premier League record 11 games unbeaten run which included an excellent 10 wins. His goals and assists were key to Spurs finishing in 4th place.

The former Arsenal striker grabbed himself 17 League goals and 11 assists in just 32 games, the only player in the League to hit double figures in both goals and assists last season, he finished the season in 4th place for both statistics. Yet there are still question marks surrounding him. Even if he does accept the huge wage cut necessary for him to return, he is an inconsistent player and there are real concerns about his motivation and work rate at times.

His magnificent performance in the 5-0 rout against Newcastle United highlighted the undoubted qualities that he offers, with one goal and a joint League record of four assists in the game; he was awarded a perfect 10/10 on WhoScored.com. However, it was only a game previously, away at Liverpool, where all the negative sides of the striker were on view.

He managed a meagre one shot and a dreadful zero key passes over the 72 minutes he played before being withdrawn by stand in manager Kevin Bond. He is a major plus to the more flexible attacking force that Villas-Boas likes to work with his movement and link up play that are at times magnificent and his movement out to the left side of the pitch was a key ploy used to free up Gareth Bale to roam more centrally at times last season.

The striker is known to be a difficult player to work with, summed up by the fact his current manager Roberto Mancini wants shot of him stating “he has no chance of playing this season for us.” His ability still makes him an ideal signing however, yet all Spurs fans will worry his club career will follow the trajectory that happened at both Manchester City and Arsenal where an early honeymoon period (four goals in his opening four games at City) were replaced by dissatisfaction, complaints about his attitude and ultimately a messy divorce.

Do not get me wrong, Adebayor would be an excellent signing, but with the deal dragging on, it is getting more likely that Spurs will have to pursue other options and this is where Berbatov comes in. 

Dimitar Berbatov

A talented and enigmatic performer, the Bulgarian superstar recently took to Facebook to share his desire to move on from the red side of Manchester after a disappointing season where he figured only five times from the start, even though he was fit for most of the season.

Despite being displaced by the younger and more mobile Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, he still managed to grab an impressive seven League goals. Though his acrimonious exit still hurts for many Spurs fans, his ability has never been in doubt. The striker who, when he was at Spurs, managed a brilliant 49 League goals and assists in just 70 appearances.

He was the jewel in the Tottenham crown during his two year stint, winning the Player of the Year award in 2006/7 and earning a spot in the PFA Team of the Year. The striker, who mixes breathtaking control and skill with a calm and cool air, is a unique talent, who is not comparable with any other player currently in the League. It was only two years ago when he won the Golden Boot, despite not being a regular starter for parts of the season.

He would add a touch of class to the Spurs front line, something which is sorely lacking, especially with the deal for Adebayor dragging on. He can play either as a lone striker as witnessed by his famous performance against Manchester City in the League Cup, or with a partner, as anyone who can remember the telepathic link play between Keane and him will attest to.

Berbatov is not necessarily an ideal signing, a lack of pace, may be an issue with a team that has Van der Vaart likely to play in the number 10  role as is the fact he acts as a direct pivot for teams to be built around. The reason his time at Manchester United has been underwhelming is the same as why Zlatan Ibrahimovic is viewed as a failure for his spell at Barcelona.

Focal points are no longer in vogue and are seen, at the very highest level, as nothing more than a plan B. They limit flexibility and variety of attack and slow the game down, something that Berbatov has a tendency to do as he is very much a player who likes to play the game at his own pace. This may make him a less appealing option to Villas-Boas with him liking quick aggressive pressing, something that the Bulgarian is not necessarily best suited for, and the sort of quick interplay and movement which has characterised Guardiola’s Barcelona who he claimed was more of an influencing factor on his style than former mentor, Jose Mourinho.

Berbatov vs Adebayor

Stats show Berbatov as a better penalty box striker. His 20 goals were enough for the golden boot two years ago and he managed more shots per game than Adebayor. His finishing rate was also far more impressive, with Adebayor spurning too many chances last season. It is clear that Adebayor offers more with his all round game at the moment, with his 1.8 key passes far eclipsing Berbatov’s 1.1.

The combination, play and style of the manager’s methodology suits a mobile striker in the Adebayor mould rather than the more languid former Bayern Leverkusen front man. However, there are a couple of variables to keep in mind when looking at the data; Adebayor was used as the fulcrum of Spurs’ attacking play last season with his movement and interplay being vital cogs in the Tottenham machine, whereas Berbatov is not expected to link the play in the same way he did during is original stint at Spurs, being used more as an out and out number nine rather than the neuf et demi role those at White Hart Lane witnessed.

Berbatov’s strike rate though could be down to the fact he is more likely to start in games against the League’s weakest teams, the sort of games like Blackburn at home where he grabbed a haul of five goals in a seven goal thumping. Adebayor also has the advantage of being more mobile than the United man which will be vital for interchanging of positions and pressing game that are central to the manager’s methodology.

The statistics do point to the former Togo international as being currently the better player, but the transfer market has to be categorised like politics was by Otto von Bismarck as the “art of the possible” and if an impasse cannot be found between Adebayor, Spurs and City, no deal will take place, meaning Spurs will need to weigh up other options.

Leandro Damiao

Would Berbatov be the ideal signing and the perfect striker to fit into Villas-Boas’ team? The answer is probably no as shown above, with Adebayor being both statistically better and more suited to the style of play. But with Spurs claiming, according to Duncan Castles, to be “increasingly confident” of signing the highly exciting Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao, there would be a logic to signing the experienced Bulgarian.

Leandro shot to prominence this summer in the UK, after he grabbed six goals and won the golden boot at the Olympics. The young Brazilian is one of the world’s brightest talents. He is a clever and skilful striker whose brilliant Lambreta against Argentina in 2011 brought him to international audiences. He has shown for the national team the instincts of a natural predator, while showing good link up play and excellent movement which are the sort of characteristics Spurs will be looking for in the man to lead the line.

The negative about the Internacional striker, is that he is only tested in Brazil and will require a settling in period while he transitions to the pace and rigours of the Premier League. This is where the signing of Berbatov starts to make more sense, especially if the prices quoted by the player and United are to be believed.

It will allow the Brazilian to be rotated in and out of the team while he adapts to the strains of life in England. The striker is viewed as the future of the Spurs attack by chairman Daniel Levy, who attempted to sign him a year ago, and will be hoping that a club partnership, which helped bring Sandro to the club, will be enough to garner a deal for the striker who has scored 70 goals in just 115 club appearances.

After outshining the likes of Hulk and Neymar there is no reason to believe his signing would not be both a massive coup and a statement of intent by the new manager. People may see Berbatov’s age as a problem with the striker the wrong side of 30, and thus going against the modus operandi of the chairman.

But the very fact he is in the final furlongs of his career is what makes him an almost perfect short term signing, a stop gap, that would improve the club in the short term and alleviate the pressure from the magnificent prospect of Leandro, especially in the context of a deal for Adebayor looking increasingly unlikely. 

If Spurs were to end the window with both Adebayor and Damiao, a wave of hope and euphoria would sweep around the ground, but it has to be the Brazilian striker who is the priority, as he is one for the future and would be a pivotal figure in Villas-Boas implementing his project in the long term.

Moreover, if Spurs were to place their eggs in the leandro basket, they will need a deal without all the complications that bringing Adebayor to the Lane caused if they are likely to get the two strikers so badly needed before the Big Ben strikes midnight on the 31st August.

A little aside to all Spurs fans who do not want Berbatov back due to the way he left the club. Yes, he was chasing bigger prizes and more money at Manchester United, but who can truly blame him? He left behind the shambles of what was the Juande Ramos reign and went on to win two Premier League titles and reach two Champions League Finals.

Remember Teddy Sheringham did the same thing and had a semi-successful second stint, while Keane was only held in disdain due to returning from Anfield a shadow of the striker who scored over 100 goals at the club. The fact is; most players would have left the way Berbatov did. Maybe it was unseemly, but it was not unique to modern football. Fans must move on from the past and want only what is best for the club.

As Omar Little said in The Wire “It’s all in the game yo, all in the game“. It is said never trust a partner that has cheated on you before, but this would not be the return of a Shakespearian love affair but a marriage of convenience, the sort of one where parents stay together for the sake of the kids and if it did give Leandro the chance to adapt and grow, then what a signing it could be.

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