Football will never be anything other than a team game. Even the modern greats like Lionel Messi need the aid of those around them to perform to levels far beyond even the best in the game. But football also needs luxury players, players who help to define the sport and who make good teams into fantastic, potentially title-winning sides.
Players who are considered a luxury—and in some cases too much of a hindrance on the performances of the rest of the team—should be seen as one of the beacons that draws supporters to the game. Luxury players are not just about picking them up to add something edgier to a team, but largely it’s for the joy of watching them play.
Dimitar Berbatov has long been considered lazy and at times ineffective. Oddly, no one has ever questioned his talent or ability to dictate and change a game. Players like the Bulgarian are far from lazy and can offer so much more to a team if they’re seen as the focal point. After all, their supreme talent warrants far more than the status of a player who is rotated in and out of a side.
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It only seems to be English football where this is the mentality. Any other league could surely harness the qualities of their most gifted players and set up the team to their strengths. Berbatov had some of his best moments in the Premier League during his time at Tottenham, while his 20 goal season at Manchester United gave an insight as to how much can be drawn out of the player when the team knows where its primary strength is.
There is something notably special about these players. They play the game with a confidence bordering on arrogance, but you can’t help but marvel at their abilities. These are the players that force kids to pick up a football and chase a dream. It inspires something beyond just grey skies and mud. Players like Berbatov make the game look deceptively easy, all the while others around them are pouring with sweat and a hunger to receive applause for a gut-busting sprint or a last ditch tackle. Luxury players on the other hand, have been given powers to have an otherworldly effect on a game, and they always seem to be holding all the secrets.
It’s a great disappointment, then, that Rafael van der Vaart’s relationship with Tottenham was ended prematurely. A club like that has a history of great players or what could now be classed as ‘luxury’ performers. Van der Vaart needed the team set up in his favour, and at times it seemed as though the best option was to have him out of the side. He was a luxury because he was that good, he was a difficult player to hang on to because of the injuries, but he was primarily a name that sent waves around White Hart Lane when he arrived from Real Madrid. He was another genius on the pitch and a player who was traditionally Tottenham.
Yes they lack tactical flexibility, but why would a team want to defuse their spark by playing them out of position? Berbatov’s languid movement meant he was hardly a trouble for most centre-back pairings, but that’s based on the assumption that his talent needs to be married with hard work, direct running and dragging opposition players out of position.
The disappointment and the reality check is that these players are in a world of their own—often they’re so far removed in terms of quality from the rest that they’re cast aside to make the result a little less based on their application and impact on a single game.
So much more could have been made of players like Berbatov in English football, rather than one great season at United and a slow decline away from top four royalty. He is still an enigmatic genius on the pitch that everyone wants to see, but it probably says a lot about the mentality of football in the country when only Fulham seemed to be in for him.
The game may try to change these players, but that’s the last thing you want. Why should the most gifted have the talent knocked out of them for something more simplistic? Sports should never be like that. And when English football needs to grasp onto whatever it can it terms of the finest players—we’re not going to be seeing Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi here anytime soon—taking luxury players and branding them with a somewhat negative tag is counterproductive.
People need to be excited about the game, they need seemingly flawless talents wearing their club’s shirts. It’s a lot to do with pride, but these players are the reason we watch football.