Dimitar Berbatov: Maradona was a footballing God

Diego Maradona tribute
Dimitar pays tribute to Diego Maradona in this week's column

Betfair Ambassador Dimitar Berbatov pays tribute to Diego Maradona, discusses Manchester United's latest win, backs Spurs to challenge for the title and reveals Martin Jol paid off a fine for him...

"Spurs proved that they are serious title contenders with their win over Manchester City. It was a big statement, it showed that they are ready and that they can challenge this year."

'He was out of this world'

In the world of football Maradona was God. It's a tragic and terrible day for everyone connected with football. Everyone loved the way he used to play and the way he touched the ball, he was something else.

I always remember the day he came to the training ground at Manchester United, we were doing some drills on the pitch and all of a sudden someone said 'Is that Maradona with the boss coming over?'

Everybody stopped and froze, we were all watching God walk towards us. It was a great experience to meet him in person as well as watch him score the goals he did; he was out of this world.

It's a sad day for everyone in football, I'm lost for words.

United *can* produce good football

Manchester United's 4-1 win over Istanbul Basaksehir showed that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team can produce good football. Their motivation and concentration levels were high throughout the match and they deserved the win. They needed to perform like that after their previous match in the competition when they underestimated and lost against Basaksehir.

It was a great gesture when Bruno Fernandes, who was on a hat-trick, gave Marcus Rashford the penalty. It was a captain's move, it shows leadership quality and that he's a guy who will always support his team-mates. In the dressing room after the game, I'm sure that his stock rose even more.

If Fernandes was a striker, it would have been a different story. If Rashford was on two goals, I doubt he would have given Fernandes the penalty and there's nothing bad in that because when you are a striker your job is to score goals. You want your strikers to score as many possible and you want them to be confident. I would have kept the penalty for myself. When you are a striker, you already have two goals and you a penalty, and who doesn't want a hat-trick in a game?


The opening goal in the win, that Bruno scored from outside the box, was amazing. Let me tell you, that technique is so difficult to do. I was never a big specialist at scoring from outside the box. Fernandes' strike was Scholesesque, that was his specialty, you could imagine Paul Scholes scoring that one, when the ball comes across to him, bam and into the top corner. It was perfect execution.

Fernandes can still improve defensive work

Fernandes has impressed me so much and the only weakness I see in him is his defensive side. He can improve a bit there. He's an attacking midfielder, though, who creates chances, scores goals and up the pitch is where he has his power. That's why I think it's good to have someone in the team to cover for him.

Other than his defensive weakness, he is doing everything that the manager wants from him and, with 20 goals since he joined in January, he's certainly scored more than people expected. He is phenomenal in the passing and scoring department and since he joined the club he is doing everything that he needs to do.

Spurs have earned the right to dream

Spurs proved that they they are serious title contenders with their win over Manchester City. It was a great win and it was probably exactly how Mourinho wanted the game to go. Even though I admire seeing the patient passing style of football with the ball on the ground, sometimes if you play like that and have 60 or 70% of the ball you can still lose, as City did against Spurs.

City can not change their style of play and Spurs were so prepared for them, so focussed and in the end fully deserved the win. It's a big statement, it showed that they are ready and that they can challenge this year for the title.

It is still early, but I think the title is now in the heads of the players and the manager at Spurs, even if they won't admit it. I'm sure it will be in the minds of the fans but the season is long and consistency will be a big factor. If Spurs have that, they will be one of the title challengers. Based on what we've seen so far, you can't blame anyone connected to Spurs for starting to dream. It's still early but this could be their year.

Strengthening midfield has paid off massively

I think one of the major things in the Spurs team, from what I have seen so far, are the people in the middle of the park. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a f***g bully, a rock in front of the defence. He knows what he can and can't do and he's playing to his strengths. He doesn't really get much praise but he's there and he's doing all the work. Mourinho knew exactly what he wanted when they went into the market for a midfielder, and he certainly got all that and more in Hojbjerg.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.jpg

Mousa Sissoko also plays a massive part alongside him and it's pleasing to see Tanguy Ndombele getting more and more games under his belt. I don't really know what else to say about Harry Kane and Son, it's obvious they are amazing. Every player is producing great football at the moment and long may that continue. In the past, we've seen Mourinho favour a strong midfield, he has his own ideas about how his team should be structured and, at the moment, it's working perfectly for him and Spurs.

Good to see Mourinho smiling and motivating players

After the game against City, Jose Mourino posed for an Instagram picture with Sergio Reguilon and a £500 leg of Spanish ham, which the manager paid for as a reward for the left-back's performance apparently.

Sometimes, you need a good challenge to motivate players and I'm sure that was something Mourinho promised the defender in the week ahead of the match. That kind of thing happens quite a lot and you need these things in a dressing room. Every team I have been in, managers have always give players that little bit of extra motivation by promising a reward, although usually it's just the following day off if the team win.

It makes you laugh and it makes the bond stronger between the manager and players. It gets you pumped up because you know that if you win then you get an extra day with your family or friends.

Managers can also get creative with their incentives. At Fulham, because I was late to training on the morning when my baby was just born, I had racked up around £5,000 of club fines. Martin Jol said to me 'Berbs, you have fines to pay, but I'll pay them for you if you score the winning goal in the next game.' The next game was against Stoke and I scored the only goal of the game which was a volley into the top corner, bam! I said: 'Here you go boss, enjoy the fine.'

Martin Jol 956.jpg

This week marked a year of Mourinho at Spurs, and based on where they are in the table right now, I think they are doing pretty well. There isn't really a lot that a manager can do in a year apart from get to know the team that they have. For many of the great managers it took time to be successful at clubs, it took Jurgen Klopp almost five years to win the Premier League. Mourinho is achieving everything he wants to so far with Spurs, they have great players and the squad is pretty much complete. Now they need to follow this period up with a trophy.

I expect Spurs to win again against Ludogorets on Thursday. The first game was a little too easy for them, you could see the way they moved round the pitch that they weren't playing at 100% yet they managed to get the result. You need to win like that sometimes. It's important to save your strength because it's a long season.

Sergio Ramos could do a job for Man Utd

There has been a lot of speculation about the future of Sergio Ramos, according to reports both the player and club are yet to come to an agreement on a new contract. With Ramos 34-years-old, they are probably fighting over a one year or two year contract.

Thiago Silva, who is even older at 36-years-old has proven that it is never too late to move to the Premier League and so far it is working out well for the Brazilian. I'm sure if Ramos wanted to move to a club like United then it would work out well for him too. He's in great shape, he's still a world class defender and in my opinion there's still a lot of football left in him.

I see him as a Real Madrid player, however, and I think player and club will find a solution and he will stay. I'll be surprised if he leaves, but if things don't work out then I'm sure a lot of clubs will be interested in him.

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