Berbatov: United’s flat-track bully



There are few debates more intense within the confines of Manchester United’s support than that of Dimitar Berbatov’s past, present and future. Like Marmite and anal sex, Berbatov is an acquired taste. It is a debate that rages still, even though the 30-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur striker jointly leads the Premier League scoring charts.

Should the Bulgarian hit the net against Blackpool at Old Trafford this weekend, and go on to win this season’s golden boot, it will rightly be hailed as a fine personal achievement; one central to United’s success this season. Indeed, Berbatov has scored more winning goals than any other player during the campaign. Quite literally, without the Bulgarian, United could not have won the Premier League this season.

Yet, despite the wonderful talent, dig a little deeper and the player’s record does not hold up under scrutiny. It leaves fans and admirers, including your writer, in a quandary on how to assess the £30 million man’s history at United. The inescapable feeling emerges that for all the wonderful talent on display, Berbatov simply hasn’t delivered on the £30 million promise.

The bare facts are this: Berbatov has scored 21 goals in 40 games in all competitions this season. It’s a fine record at any level. However, the tally includes none in the Champions League nor any against the current top four, unless the Community Shield is generously awarded competitive fixture status. What’s more, of Berbatov’s 21 Premier League goals the Bulgarian has scored against just five teams in the top half of the table – Newcastle, Everton, Liverpool, Bolton and Fulham.

The player’s record this season in scoring predominantly against lower-ranked teams – seven came against relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool – is mirrored across his time at Old Trafford. In fact against other members of the current top four – Arsenal, City, Chelsea – Berbatov has just two goals in 20 games over his three years with United. Include Tottenham and Liverpool in that list, and the Bulgarian has seven in 34. It is not impressive.

Moreover, for a ‘creative’ player Berbatov has just five assists in all competitions this season. It’s a pattern oft-repeated, with just six in 2009/10 and nine the previous campaign. Nani, by contrast, has 18 this season alone.

Then there is the player’s record in the Champions League, which is frankly embarrassing for a man with pretensions to be among the world’s best. True, Ferguson rarely selects the player in the latter stages of Europe’s premier competition. But then again, there is an obvious reason for that – the Scot does not feel compelled to include the Bulgarian.

Is Berbatov simply a flat-track bully, performing against lower-ranked sides but failing to deliver at the very top-level? The creative stats, together with Berbatov’s goal record, mean that it is hard to come to any other conclusion. He is, after all, a truly a ‘world class’ talent, in all that the cliché means, but one with a record that is simply not good enough to justify the £30m transfer fee.

However, if we accept that United simply over-paid for a player who has not delivered Ferguson’s oft-vaunted value then it is possible to view the player in a different light. At a near club-record £30 million Berbatov is a man that simply must deliver game and championship altering performances. He does not, possibly cannot, do it against the very best.

Halve the fee and Berbatov feels less of a square peg in a round hole and more an essential part of Ferguson’s squad system. After all, while the Bulgarian has now been eclipsed by Javier Hernández, balance is an essential part of United’s success. Berbatov offers both experience and an excellent goal return against mid to lower-ranked sides, and a different kind of approach to Ferguson’s other attacking options.

Yet, there will be questions about the striker’s future. This summer is perhaps the last opportunity for United to make a return on the player, who is out of contract in June 2012. Although the Reds have a one-way option to extend Berbatov’s contract to 2013, the player’s advancing age means that a big fee is unlikely to come once this summer’s window closes.

Ferguson is not thought to be countenancing a sale even though he has Federico Macheda, Danny Wellbeck and Mame Biram Diouf set to return after spells out on loan. With Michael Owen out of contract, the Scot is canny enough to know that experience counts for something.

Whether fans will ever see the very best of Berbatov again is doubtful though. Hernández is now Ferguson’s first-choice to partner Wayne Rooney in attack, relegating Berbatov to a bit-part role. That fact also means that United will almost certainly never full justify the huge outlay on a player who is only likely to decline in performance from here on in.

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  • Steve

    I have been thinking of this for a while but it seems that our top scorer and player with most assists, Berbatov and Nani, won’t be in our starting line up against Barca. It says a lot about how the team has changed during the year. Valencia coming back has been fantastic for us and Park has really pushed us on in the second half of the season. In all truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if Berba was allowed to go. And I agree with you, I am a fan of his, but I can also see the benefit in letting him go.

  • squigs

    All our goal scorers against our 5 big rivals this season

    Arsenal Park Ji Sung
    Chelsea Rooney Hernandez Vidic
    City Nani Rooney
    Liverpool Berbatov 3, Hernandez
    Spurs Vidic, Nani

    Totalled Up as

    Berbatov 3
    Rooney 2
    Hernandez 2
    Vidic 2
    Nani 2
    Park 1

    While Berbatov’s goals only came in the one game, we have been poor in our games against our 5 main rivals in general. This United team is full of flat track bully’s. Our home record is excellent but I could count on one hand our excellent away performances this year. Its unfair to say these are somehow easy games.

    It’s also a very easy slate on a footballer, it is harder for strikers to score against better teams, you will get less chances and your up against better defenders. For years people had this nonsense theory that Henry was a flat track bully and that C Ronaldo didn’t turn up in the big games. The better players are marked men and I can think of only a few players who have a better goalscoring record in the big games and certainly not many 20-30 goal a season strikers, perhaps only Messi and Drogba who have a better goalscoring record in the big games.

    Also in big games and in Europe we change the formation around to a 4-3-3/4-5-1 me and my dog can see that Berbatov is not suited to the formation and probably should not be in the team for these games.

  • mongoletsi

    I’ve never combined Marmite and anal…

  • hrizantem

    I find it a bit peculiar that you are bashing United for scoring against small clubs and scoring only at home, where exactly this home form is mostly what brought us the 19.

    Berbatov played a large part of our success this season. Granted, it was during the first half of the season when we had to endure our top star whining, requesting transfer, going to vacation midseason to the US and Dubai, sleeping with prostitutes and what not. At this point there was only one attacking player delivering week in week out and keeping us in contention when everyone was claiming Chelsea will run away with it.

    Of course, now all this is forgotten as the season changed, the squad went through many stages, Valencia is back, Hernandez grew as a player, Rooney finally found his form and it seems it is time to reuse the articles form last year about how this was another failed season for the Bulgarian.

    Well, I am sorry but i am not buying it! I think he has a lot to offer for United and he showed it this year. And mostly, I believe he offers something very different than Hernandez, which could help bring another title next year.

    The Hernandez and Rooney duo seems to work decently away from home and very well against the big sides as Hernandez offers a great counter attacking outlet.However, I am still not convinced it works at OT where many teams come with a bus to park. In these games, there is no space to run in and no space behind the defenses. In these games, we do not need so much speed, while we need more control, vision and different kind of magic. Which was to some extend shown in our last two home games(excluding Chelsea) that Hernandez and Rooney started against Everton and Bolton.

    Hence, I don’t see Hernandez as an alternative to Berbatov. I believe one works better at home where teams come to defend while the other works great away or against bigger teams that attack and leave themselves more open for counterattacks.

    And actually, they seem to work very well together when given the chance. This was shown in two of the iconic games of this season against Blackpool and West Ham when we started turning the games from 0:2 only when they were both on.

  • mongoletsi

    The thing is; Berba isn’t slow. He’s got a good footballing brain too. When he DOES get a rush of blood and go charging forward, he’s pretty good at that too. He hints at it now and again, then goes for an anonymous sulk in the next couple of games.

    I like him, but if we can recoup half the fee…. it rather depends on if he’s content to play against “lesser” teams next season. He’s 30 ffs, he should be experienced enough to perform against anybody.

    In summary… I just don’t know!

  • http://classicfilmsrevisited.blogspot.com/ SKW

    Hard to get past that second sentence…

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    GET HIM OUT

  • Paul

    I kind of think olives are more of an acquired taste than marmite, which is more of an instant like/dislike thing.

    I love having berbatov in the squad and his impact in the two bursts of games where he was in form has been vital to our success this season. Whilst I agree that he’s not been ‘value’ for £30m his impact on the pitch for the next 2 seasons will likely be better ‘value’ than the £15m we could get for him in the off season.

    Hope he ends up scoring the winner against Barca next weekend.

  • dingleberry

    i would say sell him if we need to otherwise keep him, as he definitely adds something to the team. hew carried us for the 1st half of season and we shouldt a) forget that and b) think that we might need him again

    we could do with getting shot of macheda and diouf though (diouf more so) and hopefully one of fergie’s 3 will be a midfielder who maybe be able to play this new no 10 deep role rooney is playing … thinking sneijder / hamisk / pastore / hazard, etc to provide cover for rooney.

    also, would love to see pogba get a start or a half against blackpool. he looks lilke he will be a great player.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    tbf I’ve always said berbatovs a cunt and shit and a cunt

    if we sign benzema and sell berbashite I’ll cry

  • http://none ian

    He is an enigma. 48 goals in 77 games for Bulgaria (& a marked man); 163 in 368 at club level. You can’t argue with the figures? But 5 assista in 40 this season is pathetic, for a ‘creative player’. Brilliant at holding up the ball, not slow running with ball, rarely gives the ball away, great feeling for angles …… Useless as a loner striker, refuses to shoot when well placed,slows things down when they need speeding up ……. Perhaps it’s psycholgical. Maybe he needs to have the team built round him & then he will give of his best? It will not happen at United. The gut feeling is that he is not, & never will be, a Teddy or an Eric & has never really fitted in. But the bottom line must be that unless we get £15+ to replace him we are unlikely to find better.

  • triggs

    Flat track bully refers to favourable conditions of playing – as opposed to favourable opposition or lack of pressure – it doesnt work for football, unless Berbatov only scored on plastic pitches or something. But everyone seems to use the term all the same.
    I think Berba can be trusted to play against anyone with a partner alongside him. Given more opportunity in the bigger games I think that his form this year would have transferred in just the same way. The problem is Fergie dosent trust him – or dosent trust the midfield – to play in the bigger games with two forwards. Fergie’s now found a way to combat that with the recent 4411 formation. The only top 6 team he’s started against with a partner was Liverpool at home where he scored a hat trick.
    If he stays, it will be interesting to see how he links up with Welbeck as our second choice forward line next year.

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  • han

    oh uncleffsknobcheesecocksuckauntyshagginganallickingfannyfingeringtwat
    leave berbs alone u jealous fucker
    he is gonna score on sunday and collect the golden boot
    i hope he inserts that up ur cunt

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    After anal sex…

    You sure that was marmite?

  • herbie simms

    SAF has said Berbatov will play against Blackpool and most likely he will start. But if he does not start against Barcelona and late into the game the score is 0-0 and Berbatov comes on as a sub and scores the winning goal for United, what will the fans be saying about Berbatov? And if its a fantastic goal, would the fans still want him to be sold? Out of respect for Berbatov, I hope he does get the golden boot, he has played a big part in United’s success this season. His early season goals kept us on course for the title. As far as whether he should stay or go, that will have to be Fergie’s call, because there have been times also that Berbatov looks like he does not even belong on the team.

  • Yang

    Beating small team without too much fuss is the most important task for wining the league title and Berbatov didn’t play many big games, so he couldn’t score goals.

    Very good player, hope he learn how to head the ball and move a bit more.

  • Spike

    Chico over Berbs..Valencia over Nani, sell em both and get me 2 decent midfielders.

    and I hate marmite!

  • ltel

    you also love anal… the bad kind

  • http://www.newhallmedialtd.com Calvino

    If we get offered 15m please accept and get rid. Waste of a valuable shirt. No heart. No fight and worst of all no balls. I still fume at the fact that we got rid of Tevez for this lazy piece of whiny ass.

    If we had no Wayne Rooney then his purchase would have made sense. He is a proper no 10 and needs a Hernandez type striker ahead of him so he can ‘strut’ his stuff in between the lines. However, in the PL and at Old Trafford especially we play at a tempo: get it and move it on to the wide men quickly AND make a bee line for the box. Has been the SAF way for years; however, this Bulgarian will get it, will not give it first time, and when he eventually does, will stroll forward so that when the ball comes into the box it looks like a bad cross!! His talent has never and will never be in doubt. To be honest, there is not ONE other player at Old Trafford to match him for sheer ability on the ball. However, this is a team sport and teams are organised to play in certain ways. Am afraid he just can not change now and start fitting our way.

    In conclusion, I actually do not blame him. I blame our manager for making that vanity purchase. Or perhaps he did it to stop City buying him. If the latter was the case then well done AGAIN Sir Alex.

  • http://none ian

    Strongly agree Calvino. The problem is that …. actually … he does not make many assists. You are spot on with Tevez. If SAF had ‘loved him’, which he needs, we would have had a great player.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    tevez is one of them benders who needs to be the top man, hed never have been that at utd, and he won’t be at city soon so he’ll leave them for some other shite side

  • fazal

    It’s not Berbatov’s fault! We can’t use the guy properly because we’ve got a crappy midfield who can’t hold their own and thus we play 4-5-1 against big teams! Berba is not the type (like Milito and Dogba) who will wrestle with defenders all alone on his own.
    Agree that hi fee was excessive but it was more due to Spurs shrewdness in business and our desperation in signing him than anything else. If we try to sign Modric it’ll be the same kind of fees.
    Berba is a fantastic striker who even developed the right attitude this season.
    I’m very happy that he’s efficient since (like someone above said) this is where the league is won. There are many more small teams than big ones and we beat all the small ones we don’t need to beat all the big ones!!
    Ironically this year we couldn’t even do that; too many dropped points to the likes of Birmingham, Fulham, Volves (that still hurts), Sunderland, Newcastle, City! And we played a lot of 4-5-1 in these matches too…play 5 in midfield against teams who just hoop the ball forward!
    Well still we won the league. I bet there must have been titles in Liverpool’s 18 where they too won it cause no one else was too bothered! A title is a title no matter what…

  • Yang

    I am very pleased with Berb. Only bad moment is FA cup miss shot. It was bad luck but you need to score if you want to win any kind of cup.

  • chocolatteballs

    Comparable to Henry.
    Henry main man at Arsenal , Berbatov main man at spurs.
    Both move on to Barca and Utd and both have little initial impact.
    Henry eventually made some ground but he was never the main man.
    Berbs has taken longer to make ground but eventually there is a breakthrough this season.

    But even at Spurs he tended to get marked out of the game against the top teams.

    But id still have him play against Barca (for at least 25 mins) as we have no one except the ginger and maybe Valencia who can hold the ball for us . We won’t score (i mean equalize) if we don’t have any ball against that lot, thats what happened 2 years ago.
    No ball, no chances , no goals.

  • han

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    tevez is one of them benders who needs to be the top man, hed never have been that at utd, and he won’t be at city soon so he’ll leave them for some other shite side

    fuck me sideways with a broken bicycle wheel…i’m finding myself in agreement with one of the cunt’s posts – maybe there is some light at the end of his tunnel after all the comings and goings on but he is definitely spot on with his assessment of tevez

  • http://www.newhallmedialtd.com Calvino

    Err, please what is wrong with someone of Tevez’s ability wanting to be the top man? THREE times South American footballer of the year while he was still under 25, topscorer at the Olympics Football event as his country won the Gold medal. Am sorry but he is entitled to feel that way. Now, should a club allow him to have his way? That will depend on the team and the manager.

    What is certain is that in terms of attitude, application and end product he would have served Manchester United better than Berbatov has.

    At Man City, he has little respect for Mancini. Mancini is a lemon of a manager. He is doing well at City now cos of their money. At Inter he failed consistently in Europe and was only able to win Serie A after the Calciopoli scandals so I feel that should Tevez leave it might boe for one of two reasons: 1.his disdain for Mancini’s management style and tactics or 2.Kia has got him another great deal.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Tevez is a self centred knob… just like most footballers.

    We were never going to be able to keep him though… Not while he was “OWNED”, by Joovbinhad, and City were willing to pay.

    I hope we never get involved with that sort of arrangement again.

  • bman

    I love how Tevez justified going to City because for family reasons he had to stay in Manchester. Now he says he can’t stay in Manchester for family reasons. He’s a fool who lets his owner/agent/advisor/”friend”/puppeteer lead him by the knob, and he could end up wasting his career because of it.

  • squigs

    Calvino said:
    Err, please what is wrong with someone of Tevez’s ability wanting to be the top man? THREE times South American footballer of the year while he was still under 25, topscorer at the Olympics Football event as his country won the Gold medal. Am sorry but he is entitled to feel that way. Now, should a club allow him to have his way? That will depend on the team and the manager.

    What is certain is that in terms of attitude, application and end product he would have served Manchester United better than Berbatov has.

    At Man City, he has little respect for Mancini. Mancini is a lemon of a manager. He is doing well at City now cos of their money. At Inter he failed consistently in Europe and was only able to win Serie A after the Calciopoli scandals so I feel that should Tevez leave it might boe for one of two reasons: 1.his disdain for Mancini’s management style and tactics or 2.Kia has got him another great deal.

    Tevez in his last season was terrible for United. An Argentinian Alan Smith.

  • han

    any player with little respect for the manager is a cunt

  • Just1n

    Who cares if Tevez is a cunt. Im not gonna get into a Tevez vs Berbatov debate but a player who brings that amount of energy and class and commitment to the team is worth it imo. He is a fucking asset to any team.

  • Just1n

    Looking at Owen’s ability to put a chance away when coming from the bench , If Berbatov is not in the starting 11 against Barca – should he be on the subs bench considering he is not that great as an impact sub.

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