Play it, Dimitar



For cinephiles, Rick’s assertion to his erstwhile lover Isla that she must board the plane to Lisbon, for fear of regretting it should she not, still ranks as one of film’s great moments. Captured in three fleeting minutes is the pain of inevitable, and surely permanent, separation. Rick, although embittered by his past with Ilsa, and set free only by her, allows his great love to leave him for the last time. In the process Rick saves her life, and that of her husband, in the name of a more noble cause. They will, after all, always have Paris.

It is a romantic’s notion that some Manchester United supporters may have cause to knowingly recall this week. Old Trafford is no war-torn Casablanca, of course, but for United fans comes a dawning realisation, one years in the making, that Dimitar Berbatov’s future may lie elsewhere. It is for the love of Berbatov that supporters may also have to let him go.

Reportedly spotted boarding a plane to Germany this week, Berbatov’s end may well be nigh, with former club Bayer Leverkusen and billionaire-owned Russians Anzhi Makalakla reportedly keen on the 30-year-old Bulgarian, who is out of contract in the summer.

But separation, if it is to happen this winter, will come with a heavy heart. Not perhaps for Sir Alex Ferguson, who uses the striker sparingly, but certainly for those whose who love football’s more artistic tones.

Speculation about the former Tottenham Hotspur player’s future has rarely been out of the headlines in the past two years, with the forward now Ferguson’s fourth-choice in the role. Berbatov’s 21 goal haul last season came predominantly in the opening months of the campaign, only for the United manager to drop his £30 million star during the run-in.

Berbatov did not even make the squad for the Reds’ humiliating Champions League final loss to Barcelona, as Ferguson instead chose Michael Owen for a place on the bench. Being overlooked for a player who has performed with no distinction for United, or indeed anybody over the past decade, must have hurt Berbatov deeply.

Indeed, those willing to countenance Berbatov’s departure will point to two pieces of compelling evidence: that the striker’s contribution is now spasmodic at best, and that he is predominantly most active against United’s weaker opponents. Last season’s hat-trick against Liverpool aside, Berbatov rarely scores against United’s toughest opponents or in key matches. After all, Berbatov has scored just five goals in 25 Champions League appearances for United — four of them against Aalborg and Celtic.

Yet, Ferguson claimed only last week that the one-year, one-way, extension clause in Berbatov’s contract would be activated this spring, ensuring both that the player is tied to United until summer 2013, and perhaps more importantly for Old Trafford’s bean counters, that he will not leave on a free transfer in June.

Football is rarely a case of black and white though, and when it comes to transfer matters United is a club that is rarely willing to share the truth. Behind the assertion that Berbatov’s contract will be extended is the potential financial cost to the club. In an era of Glazernomics, where United’s owners are placing a genuine squeeze on Ferguson’s budget, extension will cost not only a fee in the £5-10 million region, but the Bulgarian’s hefty annual wages. It is a heavy price to pay for a player that is unlikely to start 30 games in all competitions this season.

Moreover, for all Berbatov’s enduring quality he has become an iniquity in Ferguson’s tactical system that, shorn of creativity in the centre of midfield, relies on pace in wide and forward areas. Berbatov simply slows down United’s play too much for Ferguson’s liking, and the Bulgarian has never genuinely struck up the kind of partnership with Wayne Rooney that Danny Welbeck appears to have found.

Yet, Berbatov is far more than a set of numbers, whether analysed on or off the pitch. The Bulgarian’s sublime touch and inspirational skill had a recent guest on this site’s podcast describing the Bulgarian as a player “made of velvet and wonder”. In that there is much to admire. Frustratingly unproductive at times, perhaps, but Berbatov is, was and surely always will be a supreme entertainer.

The club has been here before of course and at no point has Ferguson previously given the green light for Berbatov’s sale. This time may be different though for all the reasons already highlighted. Finances aside, Ferguson would surely retain Berbatov even in a bit-part role. But money is never far from the big picture at Old Trafford.

That, of course, is to say little of the player whose shining star deserves a leading part. It is with this thought that United fans may now have to accept the player’s departure. For the greater good? Maybe not. For the player’s well-being, certainly.

For many United supporters Berbatov is an enduring love, but one with whom separation now seems all too inevitable. And if Berbatov is to leave before the month’s ends, well, we’ll always have West Ham.

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  • captainhormone

    It’s not his fault he was bought, and not the player we needed.

    Hope he goes on to do well but glad he may be going.

  • sheesh

    I would rather we kept hold of him until the summer. Getting rid of players mid season, when we are a side probably more prone to injuries than most, is asking for trouble.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    owen has been patient there’s no question about that, the boy needs games

  • captainhormone

    knobcap

  • bman

    I’ll really miss Berba, we’ve criminally failed to get the best out of him — I think one reason he looks better against weaker teams is because it’s only against weaker teams that our midfield dominates. This bit from the Guardian’s secret footballer sums up why I love Berba:

    “On one occasion I went sliding in to Dimitar Berbatov (I honestly thought I could win the ball) and afterwards the look on his face was one of total pity for me. He seemed saddened by the fact I had to resort to this, either because I wasn’t as good as him or my football education was so flawed. Actually I think it was both.”

    Great article this one btw, one of the best I’ve read on here.

  • http://damiangarside.com Damian Garside

    Loved the analogy with the film Casablanca, even though I wasn’t so sure it worked completely.

    maybe you can use another film analogy in a future article: there are a lot of club owners who seem to fall into the Charles Foster Kane mold.

    Any fellow United fans out there who are also 49ers fans? Superbowl here we come.

  • captainhormone

    im a 69ers fan….if that helps

  • bman

    Looking at his stats, what’s interesting about Berba is that his goal scoring record has not been too bad with us — he scores about 1 goal for every two starts in the league, which is pretty decent and roughly comparable to what he did with Spurs. The big difference though is that he gets far fewer assists with us than he did with Spurs — with Spurs he got about 12-15 goals per season and the same number of assists, but with us he only gets a few assists per season, even when he scores a good load of goals.

    That suggests to me that the problem is not entirely Berba’s. — since no one can deny that he still attempts a lot of terrific passes in dangerous areas, but for whatever reason the team around him is not converting his passes into goals. We seem to be using him more as a pure striker, but his game is clearly about much more than that.

    I think he’ll be a big hit in Germany or Italy.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Berbatov is quality… like Bernie says, we misused him badly.

  • brianofnazareth

    Commenter said:
    Any fellow United fans out there who are also 49ers fans? Superbowl here we come.

    Go the Giants!!

  • Gopher Brown

    Unfortunately he will go down, like Veron, as a ‘flop’ – a term which will never even tell the slightest part of the story.

    It’s a bit worrying though, that SAF will probably ‘learn his lesson’ from this and never purchase a top player, in the prime of his career, for a large transfer fee. Perhaps, with the Glazers at the helm, we won’t ever purchase anyone over 26 ever again, which would have meant no Cantona, no Sheringham, no Yorke, and perhaps no Evra or Vidic. The former three bringing such excitement to OT in the short times they were here.

    Football is an entertaining waste of time and should be about excitement above everything else, not resale values and purchase values and whether we can justify another season of a wonderful player on £90k per week.

    • Damian Garside

      But then the rumour on the Guardian site is that Ravel Morrison is going to City,So we can’t sign anyone established and our youngsters are heading to our main rivals. Not good.

  • Abba

    Cant compare him with torres though

  • han

    fantastic player
    amazing skill and touch
    badly fucked in the anus by SAF
    if he goes, good luck and best wishes to a rare talent seen in a red shirt
    SAF doesn’t get many things wrong but he did with Berbs

  • triggs

    If Berba is a flop, what does that make Carroll, Torres and Dzeko?
    Sadly he didn’t click with Rooney and he’s been mis-managed by Fergie.
    If he is going, I hope he dosen’t leave till the summer.
    United must have someone in mind to bring in if Diouf, Berba and (probably) Owen will not be here next season.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    can someone tell me in what way he’s been mis managed

  • Just1n

    Very talented player. Just did not fit United system. Have to wonder why he was signed.

  • bman
  • captainhormone

    i’d have cavani

  • bman

    I see that Mourinho is having to defend Ronaldo from Real supporters’ criticism and even jeering because they think he’s had some bad performances. This for a guy who’s scored 21 goals in 18 games for them so far this season, Real really is a sad wankfest of a club. Come on back home lad, we’ll give you a chance to compete with Park and Young for the left midfield spot.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    can someone tell me in what way he’s been mis managed

    Fuck off Knobend…

    What is it with you?

    All you ever do is whinge about Ferguson… if it’s a player you like that’s been rubbish, then it’s… “another player Ferguson’s ruined”… but a player you don’t like, is just useless… end of.

    Berbatov has sublime qualities, and a few flaws… but we knew all about him when we signed him… there were no surprises.

    If we didn’t get the best out of him, that has to be Fergusons fault.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    he failed playing off the striker and then playing as the main striker

    what else shouldve we have tried then

  • Digga

    great player. a term too frequently used, but well deserved in his case, even if we didnt get his full potential for any consistent period.

    the hatrick against liverpool, and the fact his goals last season helped us win the league puts him right up there in my books.

    thanks for the memories berba…

  • chocolatteballs

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    can someone tell me in what way he’s been mis managed

    He was touched inappropriatley by Fergie for years and has been covered up.

  • http://www.newhallmedialtd.com Calvino

    He has not been mismanaged. He just was not what we needed. As Knobby says he has been played behind Rooney he has been played on his own and nothing has worked well. So, really not anyone’s fault. He has to go for everyone’s sake.

    Fantastic talent. Unbelievable ability on the ball. But at Utd we play at speed and get it wide quickly. When Berba is in the side we are slower and teams crowd us faster.

    We might as well make a pitch for Defoe since Spurs are dicking him around. Liverpool want to make a play for him to confirm to the world that they are not racists.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Bollocks to Defoe… no improvement on Chico or Welbeck.
    And your point about Berbatov… if he’s not what we needed, then we never should have signed him… if that’s not mismanagement… what is?

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  • Dinkinflicker

    I don’t think we need a number 9 type. We have Welbeck and Chico who are more than adequate in that role. If we wanted something different on the cheap, we could do worse than get Ba from the barcodes. He’s apparently got a 5m clause in his contract and given the way he raped our lot last week he might be as daft a choice as he would have sounded a few weeks ago.

    Personally though, I think we need someone who can either play a touch deeper to take the pressure off Rooney, or someone who can also play as a creative midfielder allowing him play in the same side as Rooney, as well as instead of him. A Sneijder or Goetze. Never fucking happen though.

  • kramer

    Calvino said:
    Liverpool want to make a play for him to confirm to the world that they are not racists.

  • chocolatteballs

    Love watching the berb in free flow and at brief times he made us look not unlike Barcelona.
    I do remember a brief time when he And shrek were touted on MOT as the best strike partnership in the premier league and “possibly in Europe” but it didn’t last.

    That casual saved penalty he took (I think against Chelsea) in the charity shield two seasons ago was the beginning of the end in Fergie’s eyes. The look of disgust on the managers eyes that day.

  • captainhormone

    chocolatteballs said:
    The look of disgust on the managers eyes that day.

    Nothing compared tot he look of disgust in the eyes of LKHF every time he is on the team sheet

  • han

    captainhormone said:
    Nothing compared tot he look of disgust in the eyes of LKHF every time he is on the team sheet

    knobhead has a hard on actually when he sees berbas name on the team sheet
    just an inverted hard on unfortunately