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Aug 15, 2006

The missing link

When Dimitar Berbatov revealed he had turned down the chance to join Manchester United as he completed his a £10.9million move to Tottenham Hotspur back in June, many an eyebrow was raised from London to Manchester.

Yet in the opinion of the 25-year-old Bulgarian hit-man who has been singled out as the key piece in Martin Jol's impressively assembled White Hart Lane jigsaw, his choice of career move was never difficult when it became clear that his days as a Bayer Leverkusen forward were coming to an end.

The departure of enigmatic forward Mido left a gaping hole in the Tottenham side and it has been filled by a striker who pushed World Cup top scorer Miroslav Klose all the way in the race to the Golden Boot in the Bundesliga last season, firing 21 goals in 34 games for Leverkusen.

Sounding like a seasoned veteran when discussing the Tottenham playing staff and tactical plans, it's clear that this powerhouse hit-man has been anticipating this transfer for some time. 'You have to make a decision and this was the right one for me,' begins Berbatov. 'Manchester United were interested, sure, but Tottenham was the club that always wanted me, for a long time, so this was the best decision.

'They were speaking to Leverkusen for many months saying they wanted me, so I followed Tottenham closely last season. That was helpful because when I came to my first training session, I was familiar with the players here. It was just a question of beginning to understand their personalities.

'In the end, it was important for me to realise I was joining a big and ambitious club that had faith in me, that believed in me so much. From what I have seen here so far, I have made a good move.'

Seemingly the ideal foil for Tottenham's impish strikers Robbie Keane or Jermain Defoe, coach Jol has even experimented with the attacking ploy of playing all three up front in the pre-season games and Berbatov suggests it is a policy that will reap results.

'Maybe I can be the missing link for Tottenham, the guy who allows Robbie and Jermain to play in the same team, which was not always the case last season,' he continues. 'We have played the pre-season games with Jermain and Robbie alongside me and I'm familiar with this system. I've played this way before. As long as I'm in the team and scoring goals, I don't care what formation the manager decides to play, but this seems to be working well so far.

'We are already starting to get a great understanding and when you realise that the two players we talk about are among the best strikers in England and Ireland, it's a very interesting prospect for me to play with them.

'I come from a club where you did not have too many star names, but everyone is an international at Tottenham and this is something I have to adapt to. I know I have to improve to stay in this side and that's why I came here.'

The last time Tottenham spent big of a foreign striker with a big reputation, the move turned out to be an almighty disaster, with the hapless Serhiy Rebrov failing to settle after his £11m move in the summer of 2000. A return of just 10 Premiership goals was not what anyone involved in the move had in mind, but Berbatov looks well placed to enjoy a much more fruitful stay in London.

Speaking excellent English and determined to integrate into his new surrounds, Berbatov is setting his sights high by suggesting he is aiming to score in excess of 15 goals in a campaign he describes as 'the toughest test of my career'.

'As most of the best defenders in the world are in England, it will not be easy for me to score goals here, but this is my challenge,' he continues. 'The reason I wanted to come here is because this league is better than the one I was in last season and everyone wants to test themselves.

'I believe my game will be well suited to the Premiership and now I have to prove it. I want to score at least 15 goals this season, maybe more. Tottenham have bought me to score goals and I aim to repay them. Also, if you think I can be close to the top scorer in England this season, I will try not to disappoint.

'This is a challenge I want. I speak some English, which I'm sure will help me settle. I learned the language at school, but it was always at the back of my mind that I would play in England one day, so I have tried to learn as much as possible in the last few years. I watch many English speaking movies, you know. Too many to mention, but they have taught me a lot. I'm looking for a house and I'm sure I will like it in London.'

Tottenham certainly appear to have bought a scoring machine with the capture of Berbatov as his record at international level is just as impressive as his club form, while his marketability as 'the David Beckham of Bulgarian football' is bound to gather pace if he shines in the Premiership spotlight.

With dashing looks and the talent to match, he has been hailed as the best striker to emerge from Bulgaria since the great Hristo Stoichkov, a legend Berbatov is keen to avoid comparisons with as he prepares to make his Premiership bow.

'Stoichkov is the most famous Bulgarian player we have ever had so he is a hero for everyone in my country,' he adds. 'Everyone listens to what he says and tries to learn from him as he did so much for football in my country. Hopefully I can get close to repeating what he did.

'I don't compare myself to anyone, especially not someone so good. That's not what I do. Hopefully in years to come, people will be able to say someone from the next generation of players is like Berbatov, but for now, I just want to be successful for myself.'

If Dimitar Berbatov emerges as one of the Premiership's star turns in the months ahead, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United will be left to rue the fish that slipped through their once watertight net.


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