When I was in high school, I loved Dimitar Berbatov. I still do of course, literally every single person in the world besides Sir Alex Ferguson does, but my most focused obsession over Berbatov came during his Spurs run. I had simply never seen a player who played like that before.
The common piss take on Berbs was that he was lazy, and couldn’t be assed to run, but this is like criticizing Jesus for walking on water because he didn’t know how to swim. His ability to bring the game to him, stop it completely, then let it resume around him while he found a way to thread the ball lucratively back in was earth shattering to me. Up until that point all my sport idols were workhorses. Box-to-box midfielders that managed the field, that grabbed the game’s throat and told it what to do. Berbatov made the game do what he liked without even asking. I can still picture Berbatov calmly standing in the box in his long sleeved white shirt, defenders all around him leaping like animals to get a head on the ball, only for the ball to fall directly through the bodies right onto his foot, and then casually into the net.
In the spring of 2007 I was in a futsal league, and I was terrible. I always tried to play too fast, and with the natural pace of the game I lost all control. Eventually, I learned the best way to settle me down was to just watch a couple of Berbatov videos on the internet before I left my house to go play. It was really that simple, and it somehow actually worked.
One day, while I was watching a highlight before a game I made a shitty Berbatov replica with a white undershirt and a sharpie. I know it sounds lame and also more than a little infantile for a 17 year old kid to be doing, but it actually came out pretty neat. I hand sketched the Tottenham badge over the left breast, and drew in a number 9 on the back with Berbatov arched over it. It was cool. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.
I wore it to school the next day. Not as an undershirt, but as an actual shirt. Again, this may seem an odd choice, but my friends and I had a strange fashion sense. Every Tuesday we would wear cutoff jeans torn so high the pockets hung out the bottoms. An undershirt drawn to look like a kit didn’t even stand out. In between second and third period, I was casually standing by my locker with friends when, for reasons which are still a complete mystery to me (maybe he was high? he really enjoyed cough syrup around this time) my friend Matt walked up out to me out of nowhere, wordlessly grabbed the neck of my shirt, and tore it completely off my body. I honestly cannot remember what I did for a shirt the rest of the day.
I’m not a Spurs fan, so I probably shouldn’t speak to how they collectively feel. In fact, I’m an Arsenal fan, so I definitely shouldn’t.¹ I can’t completely know how they feel this week. After a GREAT transfer window. After watching Arsenal whiff over and over again on high profile transfer targets. After getting to a point where they didn’t just have a chance at finishing in the top 4 or a shot at finishing ahead of Arsenal, but to the point where they should finish fourth, and should beat Arsenal. To the point where it would be an upset if they didn’t. What they must feel like when their only goal is to beat just this one team. One side. One arrogant side, and to look like they were just moments from doing that. Only to, in the span of two days, lose to them in a derby and watch those asshole Gunners sign Mesut fucking Özil.
I can’t know how they feel, but I imagine it feels something like how I felt after that asshole Matt ripped my fucking shirt off.
¹I’m an American Arsenal fan though, to be fair, so the Tottenham/Arsenal rivalry doesn’t really matter to me. I never had to go to school every day as a child and argue about which team was better. I never had to take shit from my Spurs supporting friends the day after a disappointing Arsenal fixture, and I never had any Spurs supporting friends to give shit to. The closest thing I have to that is my brother’s past-tense fanship of Manchester United, and my dad’s inexplicable love for Steven Gerrard. I like Spurs fine. I liked Modric, I loved Berbatov obviously, and I think I look like AVB from some angles.