The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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The Tuesday Portrait: Dimitar Berbatov

What do you look like, Dimitar Berbatov?

A pumpkin, a ploughshare, a sullen boy, a sheaf of corn, a furrow, a scarecrow, a farm.

What do you mean, “a farm”?

I am moving on the pitch while a horse, broken from labor, gingerly walks around a split rail fence whose uppermost rail is sodden. It blows steam from its nostrils and shakes its stringy mane. It is the most matter-of-fact thing in the world, and yet its eyes are always hurt.

Why do its eyes look hurt?

Its eyes look hurt because it is misunderstood. Nothing could be more of its world than it is, and yet it, too, is a creature of obliquity whose twists and turns are hidden by its suitability to its function.

How do you play the game of football?

There is a way of huddling within oneself like a starved man waiting to leap on a man who may have food: then leaping on him the moment the fire goes out.

Berbatov with deep black eyes.

But I know you have a beautiful first touch.

There is a way of touching the ball that makes a fire go out.

But don’t you love to score goals?

I love to score goals. I score them with perfect transparency, like a hawk that plummets in the sky. Its intentions are apparent, but the bird upon which it is falling has no chance.

Your statements are curious, because you portray yourself as a rustic or wild creature, yet from a distance you appear to be a man who is hunched in a leather jacket inhaling deeply from a pinched cigarette as he crosses a bombed-out city square in the most cold concrete scenario in the world.

I am that man. But only in the way that the wind that blows through a ruined church is the wind that blows through the yellow plains beneath the indigo sky. There is a way of being balanced so that at any given moment one is practically sliding. One is able to tilt so far without forfeiting one’s place. On the football pitch I am an angle and a mystery. I am suddenness and an unexplained delay. I have hollow eyes, and yet my eyes are full of everything they must see.

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The Tuesday Portrait: Dimitar Berbatov

by Brian Phillips · January 29, 2008

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