Dimitar Berbatov already Fulham's 'biggest player' says Martin Jol

 

Dimitar Berbatov has taken just one game to make himself Fulham's most important player, according to manager Martin Jol.

Berbatov became a instant hero at Craven Cottage last week when he marked his home debut with both goals in his new side's 2-0 Barclays Premier League win over West Brom.

The 31-year-old will shoulder the goalscoring burden again tomorrow when Fulham travel to Wigan, having struggled to feature on anything like a regular basis at Manchester United last season.

Jol said: "The big difference for him is that he knows, if he is fit, then he will play a lot of games.

"He's an important part of our set-up, of course. He's probably our biggest player.

"At Man United, which of course is a bigger club, it was maybe different in the last year or so."

Berbatov's Old Trafford frustration led to the Bulgarian accusing United boss Sir Alex Ferguson of a "lack of respect", a far cry from his feelings about Jol, who he said "trusts me".

The Fulham boss, who brought Berbatov to England six years ago after signing him for Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen, insisted putting his faith in Berbatov for a second time was a no-brainer.

"Don't forget that Dimitar was the top scorer wherever he played," Jol said.

"In Germany for Leverkusen, he was top scorer. He did the same at Spurs. He was ahead of all the other players, like Robbie Keane, (Jermain) Defoe.

"Then he went to Man United. He was their top scorer and, of course, they trusted him over there because he was their top scorer.

"If you sign someone, you trust him. Otherwise, you'd better leave it.

"So I think all these managers who signed him, they trusted him.

"I don't see any difference."

Jol's modesty does a disservice to his own powers of persuasion, which saw him convince Berbatov to ditch a move to Fiorentina at the last minute this summer.

It was the second time he had talked the striker into joining him after Spurs beat off United's interest in 2006.

"He had other options at that time and he still made that decision to come to us, to me, to Tottenham," Jol said.

"So I think that is the sort of relationship I've got with him because there was probably even a bigger club then coming in for him and he still wanted to come to Spurs.

"But we shouldn't stretch our imagination and I think Berbatov could have gone to Italy.

"He was on the fringe of going to an Italian club.

"And then I spoke to him and maybe that convinced him.

"If he plays well like he did the other day, there will always be a good relationship."

Jol looks like needing all his charm in the ongoing contract negotiations with defender Brede Hangeland.

The Fulham boss admitted there was little prospect of a deal being agreed soon for the Norway star, whose contract expires next summer and will be free to talk to rival clubs in January.

Defensive partner Aaron Hughes signed a new contract last week but Jol said of the Hangeland saga: "That will take a bit longer because we don't talk to him every day but there will be another appointment as we try to keep him here for the long term.

"If that is not possible then we will try to keep him for the next two years."

PA

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