Tag Dimitar Berbatov

Tag Dimitar Berbatov

Berbatov – the final chapter

August 30, 2012 Tags: Opinion 13 comments

Love Dimitar Berbatov or hate him, but if he didn’t exist somebody would have to invent him. There have been countless debates about whether Berbatov is good enough to play for United – that he is good was never a question. In the end Berbatov didn’t become the saviour some hoped him to be; just as the Bulgarian was never was a flop. On the field, he could go missing just as he could be a genius; off it, he was always classy. The striker failed to deliver in his second season, but was the main reason we won the 19th title in his third. He was always a Berbanigma.

Now, on the verge of leaving the club, Rant takes a final look at the player’s United journey. The show may have been one season too long, but we are going to miss him. Just a little bit. Go on, admit it.

 

 2008/09 – “Looking for heaven, found the devil in me. Well, what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen”

 

18 July 2008
“We have made Tottenham an offer on Berbatov and we have good expectations that this deal will go through.”
Sir Alex Ferguson

 

22 August 2008

Still a Tottenham Hotspur player, Berba signs a United shirt for a fan.

“Dimitar Berbatov’s character has been questionable since his sulking with Spurs, but I think he may have taken it a step too far now. When a fan thrust a Manchester United shirt in his face, Berbatov happily signed it. Just seems lacking in class to me. Can you imagine if Cristiano Ronaldo had been signing Real Madrid shirts a couple of weeks back?”
Republik of Mancunia

 

1 September 2008

Berbatov signs for United on the last day of the transfer window, costing the club around £30 million. The player, who was granted a permission to talk to Manchester City on the same day, is spotted wandering along an Old Trafford corridor – news that broke a few blue hearts despite City offering more.

“Joining United is a dream come true. I look forward to playing my part in helping this club win more honours.”
Berbatov

“This is a key signing. Dimitar is one of the best and most exciting strikers in world football. His style and ability will give the team a different dimension and I’m sure he will be a popular player with the fans.”
Sir Alex Ferguson

 

2 September 2008

“If I wanted to play for the money, I would accept the Manchester City offer or Chelsea. The red shirt is the really big thing for me. I want to play for the biggest club in the world. I am 27 now, I am at the biggest club in the world and maybe this could be the last step in my career. I know I can develop here in the way I always wanted. I always believed. People used to say ‘keep the faith’. I went through some difficult times and it was a long battle, but I always thought it was going to happen and in the end it did. Now I am here and hopefully I will play my part in the team and we can win lots of trophies as well.”
Berbatov

 

12 September 2008

“I would not even have thought about Manchester City. My only goal was to come to United. I heard about the offer City made and the money they want to spend. It did not make any difference to me. I just wanted to come here. My ambitions and goals are big and I want to fulfil them at the biggest club in the world. That was my only goal – and I achieved it.”
Berbatov

 

13 September 2008

Berbatov marks his début with an assist for Carlos Tevez as United lost 2-1 to Liverpool at Anfield.

 

30 September 2008

Berbatov scores twice against Aalborg BK in the Champions League group stage.

“I knew that my first goal would come sooner or later. I’m pleased to help my team win, that’s the most important thing. But I’m happy [to score my first United goal].”

 

29 October 2008

“One of my favourite Berbatov memories is *that* turn against West Ham. Not for the turn itself, just the old-timer in front of me at OT, who turned around shouting at everyone in the vicinity ‘did you see that? DID YOU SEE THAT!?’ We did, and it was magnificent.”
Cal Gildart

 

16 November 2008

“I don’t want to be compared with anybody else – especially a legend like Cantona. If you ask some of the guys here, I am the quiet one. I don’t talk much. I prefer to listen and watch. I’ve been like that all my life.”
Berbatov on those comparisons with Eric Cantona

 

20 December 2008

Berba is hilarious.

 

10 January 2009

“People talk about the north and the south but I don’t make comparisons like that, I am just interested in my football. People says it is not sunny here and it rains all the time but that doesn’t bother me. I like it the way it is. In fact, I like it better here. I am not a guy who looks for places with a lot of people and traffic. London was crazy anyway, so I used to live out of town. Here it is more peaceful. But the city is secondary to the team I play for. Now I play for the biggest team in the world, so it doesn’t matter where I live.”
Berbatov on life in Manchester

 

2 February 2009

“I think I can say I’m pleased so far. But even when things are going great, I keep on telling myself I need to do more. I’m a perfectionist, I set high standards. I know it can’t be perfect every time, but that’s my aim. If it’s near perfection, I suppose I’m happy. I hope people appreciate [all the assists] because sometimes I take more pleasure making an assist than scoring myself. Some days you read the newspapers, some days you’re better off not reading them! Everyone has the right to an opinion. Half the people might like me, the other half might not. But throughout my life I’ve had high expectations for myself, so I just try to make the non-believers into believers.”
Berbatov speaking to United Review

 

18 February 2009

“The players here who have already won it, need it again and again and again. I have none of that. When I am here, it is like I need it – I want it. With the help of everybody, with the right amount of effort on the pitch and with the team we have, I am pretty sure we can win it again.”
Berbatov on the title race

 

26 March 2009

While some fans may not be impressed, Italian porn star ‘Simba’ uses her breasts to paint a picture of him.

 

19 April 2009

Berbatov fails to score in the FA Cup semi-final shoot-out against Everton. United lose 2-4 on penalties.

“He will get criticism because when you pay £30million for a player everyone thinks he should be able to score with a penalty kick. He was upset and disappointed, as we all were. But I don’t see any evidence of Berbatov’s season tailing off. He has missed a few games and overall yesterday, I thought he did really well.”
Ferguson

“You remember how I scored my penalty for Tottenham [in the 2-1 win over Chelsea in the 2008 Carling Cup final] at Wembley? I did it exactly the same way.”
Berbatov

 

26 May 2009

“I am part of this team but I don’t feel fully part of it because I didn’t win the Champions League [in 2008]. That’s a little bit painful. If we can do that again, with me in the team, it will mean so much.”
Berbatov prior to the 2009 Champions League final

“I can [play] a lot better, but in the end it’s only important what the boss is going to say to me. If he says he is not [happy], then I need to work to improve so I can be better next season. I need to score more.”

“When someone has great qualities sometimes they don’t have to put much effort into things. Sometimes the things I do look effortless but it’s not like that. It’s very difficult but because of my style I make it look easy. When I get the ball the players need to start running and then I just feed them with the ball.”

“People, even before they know you, say, ‘He’s not good.’ It’s always painful to listen to that. Maybe it motivates you to show them that they are not right. I have tried to do that all my life. I keep on fighting and training. I hope when I finish with football I’ll be happy with what I’ve achieved.”
Berbatov

 

2 June 2009

“It is very difficult to accept defeat in the most important final. This is my second defeat on such an occasion, and I just hope I will get a third chance and win it. Barcelona were the better team in Rome and won. I think the season has been successful for me. Next season we will be favourites in all competitions again: after all, Manchester United is the biggest team in the world.”
Berbatov on the Champions League final

 

Season stats: 36 (7) appearances, 14 goals
Season high: most assists in the team, including *that* one against West Ham
Season low: penalty kick in the FA Cup semi-final

 

2009/10 – 2009/10 – “Regrets collect like old friends. Here to relive your darkest moments”

 

3 June 2009

“He is an outstanding player. Sometimes it takes people longer to fit in at a club in terms of the lifestyle and the football, which is probably what’s happened to him. But I’ve watched him and I’ve every confidence he will be even better next season. I’ve seen him be outstanding for Tottenham and I’m sure he will be again. I was very similar to Berbatov in terms of the way I looked as a player. I didn’t look like I was running around either. But just because he is not like a Wayne Rooney or Carlos Tevez doesn’t mean he doesn’t work.”
Teddy Sheringham

 

22 July 2009

“I think I can do better this season. I think I can do more. That’s why I am happy to be on the pre-season tour. It is always beneficial to start well and have a good pre-season and I feel I am training well at the moment. I am here to score goals and I hope to score more and more for United this season.”
Berbatov

 

22 August 2009

“He is a very good player and I am particularly happy with him.”
Ferguson

 

31 August 2009

“I prefer to score beautiful goals than ugly goals.”
Berbatov

“I don’t think you stop learning until you quit football. With all the talents we have in Manchester United, they do stuff that sometimes I honestly cannot do – and I don’t even try to do because I would look like a fool! Sometimes you want to try new stuff, you see people doing things and you ask them about it. You learn from each other. To develop, you have to.”
Berbatov

 

6 September 2009

“There is a winning mentality and at United success is expected season after season. I am aware I came with a big price tag and I am ready to prove this season just what I can do. We have a chance to make it four titles in a row and that means making history if we succeed. I would not say my playing style is laid back, it is just a different style. I like time on the ball and I like space. If I can get that, then I know I can free up players like Nani and Wayne Rooney, who do lots of running. I am ready to sweat blood for this club. I want to create and score goals and I know I can be part of a trophy-winning team this season.”
Berbatov

 

7 September 2009

“It’s not easy coming to United in your first season. The spotlight is on you straight away and everyone expected Berbatov to get 30 goals last year. I don’t think he’s that type of player, but he brings something different to the team. He’s so elegant.”
Andy Cole

 

2 October 2009

“In my first year I was disappointed in myself. I need to say that. It was a big pressure for me and maybe I failed myself. I think I wanted to prove myself to these supporters. You must remember, they are used to Best, Charlton, Cantona. I am just Dimitar. I got a number of assists, but I must score more goals. I don’t know what I am doing wrong sometimes. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s me … who knows? At nights I have stayed awake thinking: ‘You could have done this instead.’”
Berbatov

“[That fans think I’m lazy] is my fault, not theirs. It is me who must change. “Manchester United are their club. They have treated me perfectly since I came.”
Berbatov

 

31 October 2009

“In the first half I had a couple of chances to score, and you need to be patient and when another chance comes along you have to score it, and I was very glad to score my chance. Every time when you score a goal you are relieved because you feel you’ve done something special and that was the case for me.”
Berbatov on his goal in a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers

 

15 December 2009

“The fans have probably seen glimpses of my best goals, passes and games. I know you need to show that all the time and that’s my main goal – in every game to show my best. I think every person is different in coping with pressure, every person thinks differently. For me, sometimes it is difficult because people expect so much of me.”
Berbatov

 

6 March 2010

“I wasn’t surprised at Berba’s work-rate. To be honest if you look at the statistics you’ll see that he’s one of the hardest runners in our team and that he covers the most ground. He’s a bit languid and whatnot, but he really puts the effort in. People see a different side to him, but I don’t think that it actually reflects his importance to the team.”
Rio Ferdinand

 

14 March 2010

“I’m pleased. It’s part of my job, to assist and to score, but if we win it doesn’t matter if I score, as long as we are champions in the end. I preferred the second goal I gave to Wayne today to the one I scored.”
Berbatov, after creating a goal against Fulham

 

28 March 2010

“Dimitar’s performances in the wins against Wolves and Bolton have showed fantastic determination. He has played up front on his own in both games. He was a massive presence running the line for us against Bolton. It was really important. It has been so important to us that when Wayne has not been playing Dimitar has been outstanding.”
Gary Neville

 

11 April 2010

Career low? In Wayne Rooney’s absence, Berbatov is booed by some United fans at Blackburn – the game that probably decides the title race in Chelsea’s favour. Although Berbatov creates the best chance of the game for Antonio Valencia, the striker is blamed by many for United’s failure.

 

17 April 2010

“People have not seen the real Berbatov this season and I would have liked to have done more for the club. My dream is still to triumph with United and win another league title. I have scored more goals with less problems at Spurs and it has been more difficult at United. But I do not worry about the critics.”
Berbatov

 

13 May 2010

“I feel exhausted and now there are many guys who can emerge from my shadow. For them the moment has come. I haven’t discussed it with my club team. I guess it will come out in England and Sir Alex will call me.”
Berbatov on his retirement from international football

 

21 May 2010

“He’s a fantastic footballer and he’ll be with us next year.”
Ferguson

“My goal is to remain with United, the best team in the world, and to see out my contract with the club. I know I have the qualities to do so. By joining Manchester United I have achieved everything I wanted.”
Berbatov

 

Season stats: 29 (14) appearances, 12 goals
Season high: created more goalscoring opportunities per 90 minutes than any other striker in the league (2.2)
Season low: Blackburn away

 

2010/11 – “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

 

15 July 2010

“You get a positive energy from the fans. They are always cheering for the team and always cheering for the players. For example, today in training it was very nice for us to see all the people there supporting us, and it’s like that all over the world wherever we go. It shows how big Manchester United is.”
Berbatov, on fans in the USA

 

16 July 2010

“[He] is a great player. He has fantastic ability. I cannot see him going anywhere. He is an important part of the team. It is a squad game at Manchester United and he is an important part of that squad. He is a really good guy. I get on well with him. He is a great lad to have around the squad.”
Darren Fletcher

 

8 – 16 August 2010

Seals the win over Chelsea in the Community Shield (3-1) and then scores United’s first goal of the season against Newcastle United.

 

17 August 2010

“I thought about it during my time back home in Bulgaria. We all wanted to win the title and we gave our best to do that, but things ended on a disappointing note. When one season finishes though, it’s not long until another starts and everyone feels ready to go again.”
Berbatov on the previous campaign

“I want this to be our season [not just mine]. The most important thing is for the team to be successful and we’re all looking forward to the challenge. We want to win every competition we’re in and it’s important that we entertain the fans as well – for me that’s what football is all about. I just want to play well, enjoy myself and score and make goals. Football is like art and my aim is to create beautiful things on the pitch to help the team be successful.”
Berbatov on the season ahead

 

19 September 2010

One of Berbatov’s career highs as he becomes the first United player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool since 1946.

“The Old Trafford is about to rise to one of the great performances of the Premier League era. Dimitar Berbatov today has made it at Old Trafford. He’s had an up-and-down two seasons, today he’s come of age. A true United player.”
MUTV’s Stewart Gardner

“[Today] feels like magical day. It was special for me, obviously, because I scored a hat-trick and we’ve won against our rivals – Liverpool. I am happy and I am going home with a smile on my face. It was, probably, my best performance in United shirt, but I don’t want it to be my last, so I’m working on that. I also have to thank my teammates for supplying me with a ball.”
Berbatov

 

20 September 2010

“I was disappointed with myself that I could not please all the supporters. I have said before the people of Manchester United are the judges and that is the way it should be. It is their team. I am a guest. A privileged guest. Man, I don’t know but I’m just so happy. So confident. I feel like everything I imagine on the pitch will come true and that feels awesome. I have worked hard on my fitness. So hard. I’m not a weights guy, I’m sure you can see by my body, but I have been trying even to work on that. I ran 6 miles every day during the off season. I watched one World Cup match, went for a run. Then watched another and went for another run. This was my routine. The way I feel right now. I’m not tired. I feel alive. I have always said I am so lucky to play here.”
Berbatov in an interview with Bulgarian TV

 

22 September 2010

“We are all aware how good Dimitar is. His skills with the ball are incredible. This season he is scoring a lot, and important goals too. He has learned what he has to do. He has changed his game compared to last season. He is in the box more and is more of a threat. If he keeps doing that we have a good chance to win the league and for him to gain some personal reward by becoming player of the year.”
Nemanja Vidić

“He’s a player who has always had a sublime touch, which is why the United fans were a bit harsh in criticising him so strongly. Players of his quality on the ball are rare, and they should be encouraged. Persevere and with him and you get goals like that on Sunday.”
Robbie Fowler

“With the natural ability that guy has with a football we could be talking about him being the world player of the year this season. I’ve played with Kaka, Ronaldinho, Wesley Sneijder – and Berbatov is as naturally gifted as any of them.”
Lucio

 

25 September 2010

“You try not to think about it but sometimes you just can’t help it. You start thinking, ‘It’s a lot of money and what’s going to happen if you don’t prove good enough for that amount of money or you don’t score enough goals?’ It can be bad for your concentration and your skills because it distracts you. But every player has periods like this and the main thing is to stay strong because you are going to have dark moments. In the end I just say, ‘Relax, play. You’re playing for the biggest club in the world’ – nobody can say anything else.”
Berbatov on that £30 million transfer fee

 

9 October 2010

“You cannot be angry. Everybody thinks they understand football. People all around the world think they are experts. But for me a good player, a complete player, is not just about scoring goals. It’s about vision, about touch, about decision-making. I know lots of strikers who score many goals, but they don’t have the technical ability I like to see in players. I always like a player who can control the ball, who thinks two steps ahead – players like Zidane or Xavi. Or like Leo Messi, who is not a typical centre-forward. He is more of a midfield player who scores a lot of goals. For strikers, you are right, people judge on the number of goals, but for me there is more to it than that.”
Berbatov on goals

“You need to know when to slow it down, when to increase the tempo. Zidane was great at doing that. He knew what he could do with his touch and when a player is really sure in himself he can do great things. I know what I can do and I try to do it. I try on the training ground and when you see the goals a player scores in games, in some ways, he’s already scored that goal in training. You try to transfer skills from the training ground to the game.”
Berbatov on football as art

 

27 November 2010

“It was a fantastic afternoon for the team and for me personally – I still can’t quite believe I scored five goals. I’ve scored five in a match before, but it was a long time ago back home in Bulgaria. To do it in the Premier League is a great feeling especially when only a few players have done it.”
Berbatov on scoring five against Blackburn

 

20 December 2010

“I prefer to see some of the younger lads winning the award. Please, don’t vote for me anymore.”
Berbatov on being named Bulgarian Footballer of the Year yet again

“I fought to have a chance to play for United and now I can only go down if I leave. Why I should do this? It would be better to retire.”
Berbatov on his future

 

22 January 2011 – 17 March 2011

In three matches of contrasts, Berbatov scores a hat-trick against Birmingham City in a 5-0 trashing and then two to complete United’s comeback at Blackpool, before losing his place in the starting line-up during United’s Champions League game against Marseille. Sir Alex is on camera laughing at Berbatov sulking on the bench.

 

8 April 2011

“I’m confident right now. I’m a striker and if I’m scoring goals my confidence is high, but the important thing is how you react when you’re not scoring. In those times it’s essential you remain confident. You may be going through a period where you haven’t scored for a few games, but you need to believe in yourself and believe that you can still do the things that lead to goals.”
Berbatov on confidence

“I keep [my match balls] at home and now my friends and my team-mates have started to make fun of me because I’m collecting so many. But if I keep earning match balls [for scoring hat-tricks] then I’m sure nobody will complain too much. I get them signed by my team-mates and they’re very precious to me – they remind me that with hard work and belief you can do a lot of good things.”
Berbatov on hat-tricks

 

19 April 2011

Selected in the PFA Team of the Season.

 

28 April 2011

Confirms suspicions – Berbatov is The Godfather.

 

14 May 2011

United crowned Champions for the record 19th time. Rooney scores the title-winning goal, while Berbatov joins the party as a late sub.

 

22 May 2011

Berbatov fails to score in the final game of the season, but finishes the campaign as joint top goalscorer in the Premier League on 20. The achievement doesn’t earn the Bulgarian a placed in Ferguson’s Champions League final squad.

“I’m going nowhere. Now I am part of United’s 19th title and I want to be part of the 20th, that’s my plan. I am the happiest man in the team because I’m a champion and top goalscorer in the league. To win 19 titles is a fantastic achievement. I expect to win against Barcelona. Everybody thinks the Spaniards are favourites but nobody knows who will win.”
Berbatov

 

28 May 2011

“I was very disappointed but you can not do anything. You must accept it. So I stayed in the locker room, watched the match. After the loss I remained in the locker room and waited to see what Sir Alex said. It hurt a lot. Sorry that Bulgaria could not see me in the finals, sorry that Bulgaria couldn’t be happy, or cry with me. Everyone now wonders why the team didn’t do well or why Berbatov was not in the squad, but I already told you why, it is the decision of the coach. But there’s always next year.”
Berbatov on missing the final

 

Season stats: 32 (10) appearances, 21 goals
Season high: winning the title, joint league top scorer
Season low: left out of Champions League final squad

 

2011/12 – “And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. So shake him off.”

 

20 July 2012

“It was straightforward last season. Chicharito hit such bloody good form that you had to put him in in every game, because he added so much in terms of threatening defenders all the time. So it was just unfortunate for Berbatov. It didn’t make him a bad player, he was just an unlucky player in that this lad came in. But that’s football and it tells you everything about football. But Berbatov has been brilliant, first-class. His training has been terrific and he’s a good type of person. A nice guy.”
Ferguson on the Champions League final

 

26 July 2012

“I am a very proud person. I don’t like to show my weaknesses. I don’t want to show my emotions in public. That is why people probably sometimes misjudge me.”

“You are not going to see me puffing around the pitch. There is a saying in Bulgaria that great quality doesn’t require much effort.”
Berbatov on his character

 

15 September 2012

“Dimitar has been training terrific. His attitude is spot on. He will get his game time as the season wears on. There is no question about that.”
Ferguson

 

4 October 2012

“Berbatov won’t be remembered by all the way I would like him to, that classy Bulgarian fella who won us our 19th title, but I do hope our fans can respect him for the contribution he has made and way he behaves. When you look at how players like Carlos Tevez, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mark Hughes left our club, or the things they went on to do and say, we should be thankful for a player who genuinely seems to get United… Top player, top bloke.”
Republik of Mancunia

 

19 November 2012

“I have read some things but there is absolutely no reason for me to let him go. He is an outstanding footballer and we will give the extra year. It is unfortunate the form of Javier Hernandez over the last year has been outstanding but he plays a great role and he trains well. He has no complaints. The boy is a great professional and we are happy for him to be here.”
Ferguson

 

21 December 2011

As a late sub, Berbatov scores with a backheel against Fulham. The goal and the celebrations sum up his genius.

 

26 December 2011

Scores his final hat-trick for the club against Wigan Athletic.

 

7 February 2012

“I’m not happy that I do not play. But I cannot blame anyone, especially in the media. When I have something to say, I go and talk face to face with the manager. He decides everything.”
Berbatov

 

18 March 2012

“He appreciates the money but that was always secondary to him, he just wants to play. Mitko has to endure this situation but it is not his style to start making scandals like Tevez. There is no punishment that left Berbatov outside of the group and it’s not his notorious Scottish stubbornness. There is hardly a manager who comes close to Ferguson. Two of my meetings with him and Gill left me with the impression that he will remain head coach until he wants. Personally, he served tea and coffee, he does not behave arrogantly.”
Emil Danchev, Berbatov’s agent

 

20 May 2012

“I rejected City’s offer to play for the best club in the world. My time in United is over and I should find another place. Right now I don’t feel complete. I’m not a bench player, so obviously my time at United ended. My goal in my life was to reach the top and Manchester United was exactly this. I wouldn’t do something like [what Tevez did]. Tevez did it out of spite. I had the opportunity to sign for City but I chose United. City are the champions but to me they just bought the title. I’m sure next year Manchester United will be on top again. Ferguson is honest. He knows how to talk to anyone. After meeting with him you go out so motivated. You want to conquer the world. I was fighting for my place and I was trying but obviously the team will rely on young players.”
Berbatov

 

23 May 2012

Third ‘farewell Berbatov’ article appears on Rant. It’s definitely a very long goodbye.

 

Season stats: 11 (10) appearances, nine goals
Season high: backheel goal v Fulham, goal v Benfica in Champions League, staying classy
Season low: being a fourth choice striker

 

8 August 2012

Berbatov plays for the last time in United shirt as a late substitute in a pre-season game against Barcelona. He is an unused sub in the opening Premier League game of the season against Everton.

 

Farewell, Berba – and thank you for the memories!

2008-2012, 149 appearances, 56 goals
Premier League Winner – 2 (2009, 2011)
FIFA Club World Cup Winner (2008)
League Cup Winner (2010)
FA Community Shield – 2 (2010, 2011)
UEFA Champions League finalist (2009)
PFA Premier League Team of the Year (2011)
Premier League Golden Boot (2011, joint)

Berba’s long goodbye

May 23, 2012 Tags: Opinion 38 comments

Dimitar Berbatov’s inevitable Manchester United exit, ignominious and embarrassing for the £30 million summer 2008 acquisition, has been a long time coming. A very long time. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave the player out of the 2011 Champions League final signalled the end of the Bulgarian’s time in the Old Trafford limelight, with only economics – and the striker’s ongoing dignity – preventing an earlier exit. Each left Berbatov stewing on United’s bench, or worse, over a final season at Old Trafford.

This was no dignified end for the hugely talented striker, albeit one who has so often failed over the past four seasons to provide that most Fergusonian of concepts: value. In truth it has been a period of dissatisfaction for player, manager, and supporters, who have enjoyed Berbatov’s outstanding quality, but seen too little output.

Berbatov will leave United this summer dismayed that he has seen so little action this season, nor in fact, in many of United’s bigger games over the past four years. For all the former Tottenham Hotspur striker’s comfort in possession and unsurpassed close control, Berbatov simply lost the trust of his manager, and failed to deliver too often to regain it.

Yet, as the season ends Berbatov will offer no Carlos Tevez-style rebuke despite the player’s frustration at warming the bench for so long. The talent, Berbatov must surely know, deserves better, but the player has held his tongue, apparently even in those frequent private moments with Ferguson over the past year.

“We talked 10 times, he told me there would be a place for me but I stayed on the bench,” the striker told Bulgarian TV this week.

“My time at Manchester United is running out. I no longer feel like a valuable part of this team. I think I did well in the few opportunities that I received. I am a little frustrated by the way this happened, I do not think I deserved it. But I have dignity and I stopped going to such meetings, it is clear that I’m leaving United. It’s obvious that I have to leave. I’m looking for a new place now. I know I can still play at the highest level.”

Berbatov has always been rebus though. Talented, yet unfulfilled. Loyal, yet accused not merely of being apathetic, but of outright lethargy. Fabulously well paid, but never greedy.

Money talks most of the time in football. Yet, when Berbatov chose United ahead of cross-town rivals City four years ago the striker was one of few to reject Eastland’s billions in favour of the glory on offer at Old Trafford. Here, one of the finest talents to grace the English game was heading north to strengthen the newly crowned champions’ already plentiful resources.

Indeed, the former Tottenham striker would join not only Wayne Rooney, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in a potent quartet of attacking talent. It’s a signing that clearly didn’t work out as Ferguson expected.

Loyalty to United also prevented the striker forcing a move out of the club last summer, although Ferguson’s intent to deploy both Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck more frequently was clear from the off. Nor, too, did the striker seek an exit during the winter when Turkish club Galatasary had a bid rejected by an Old Trafford hierarchy keen to reclaim at least part of the player’s huge fee.

“I had the opportunity to sign for City but I chose United,” adds Berbatov.

“City are the champions but to me they just bought the title. They bought so many players. I’m sure next year Manchester United will be on top again. Ferguson is honest. He knows how to talk to anyone. After meeting with him you go out so motivated. You want to conquer the world.

“Before the start of this season, I spoke with Ferguson and asked him if he’ll rely on me. He said to me that he needed me and that I’d play. I’m looking for answer myself why I was sitting on the bench. I spoke with Ferguson about ten times. I was fighting for my place and I was trying but obviously the team will rely on young players.”

There is no little frustration in Berbatov’s situation, coming a year after the striker’s finest season in Manchester. In total the Bulgarian contributed 21 goals to United’s cause in 2010/11 – 20 in the Premier League, which effectively won Ferguson’s men the title. But as the season drew to its conclusion Ferguson increasingly left the forward out of his side.

In that campaign Berbatov’s record of 21 goals in 42 games was fine, although it included none in the Champions League, nor any against the top four. What’s more, of Berbatov’s 20 Premier League goals the Bulgarian scored against just five teams in the top half of the table – Newcastle United, Everton, Liverpool, Bolton Wanderers and Fulham.

The season just gone has been even worse for the striker. In 21 games he has scored nine goals, although once again Ferguson used the player sparingly in the Premier and Champions Leagues, and hardly at all towards the business end of the season. In that there is the crux – Ferguson’s distrust that the player will deliver at the biggest moments is now total.

Indeed, the player’s record in scoring predominantly against lower-ranked teams – seven of 21 in 2010/11 came against relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool – is mirrored across his time at Old Trafford. In the campaign just finished Berbatov scored against Stoke City, Blackburn, Wigan Athletic, Fulham, Benfica and Aldershot. That strike in the Champions League was a rare one indeed.

Against other members of the current top five – Arsenal, City, Chelsea, Tottenham – Berbatov has just four goals in 32 games over his four years with United. Just two against the former trio. Include Liverpool in that list, and the Bulgarian has seven in 39. It is painful to admit, but Berbatov’s record at Old Trafford is little more than that of a flat-track bully.

Moreover, with Welbeck entrenched as Ferguson’s first choice partner along side Rooney, and Hernández available in reserve when not injured, Berbatov was never going to be afforded many chances to add to that tally this season.

In moving abroad this summer it will end one of the most disappointing periods of any player in United’s recent history. Bleak not because Berbatov failed, per se, but that a very special talent was unfulfilled. The fleeting moments will leave United fans with glorious memories, but frustrated that there simply weren’t enough of them.

Poll: will you miss Berbatov?

March 18, 2012 Tags: Polls 5 comments

Dimitar Berbatov is set to leave Manchester United in the summer after both Sir Alex Ferguson and the player’s agent confirmed that the Bulgarian will seek a new club in June. The striker, who has scored 56 goals in 147 games for United, is out of contract in June, although Ferguson has previously stated that United will activate a ‘one-way’ one-year extension to the former Tottenham Hotspur player’s deal. But with no extension yet confirmed, and United seemingly unwilling to keep the 30-year-old’s £5 million per season deal on the books, the striker is likely to start next season away from Old Trafford.

“I had three meetings with (United manager) Alex Ferguson,” said Berbatov’s agent Emil Danchev on Sunday.

“We should accept that he’ll try to build a team for the next three or four years and Berbatov will not be part of this team. Ferguson wants to change the playing style, to implement more speed. I was pleased with United’s position as they said they’ll not oppose Berbatov’s move in the summer.”

On Friday, Ferguson admitted that Berbatov has grown unhappy at the lack of first team football this season, with the 70-year-old Scot leaving the Bulgarian out of United’s squad for matches against Athletic Bilbao and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the past week. Famously, Berbatov failed to make United’s match-day squad for last May’s Champions League final.

“I understand he wants first-team football,” said the United manager.

“It’s difficult for me to guarantee that so it could lead to him looking elsewhere. We will be taking up the option on his contract but, having had chats with him, I understand he wants to get first-team football. It is something we need to consider at the end of the season. For a player of his age and his ability it is disappointing for him that he is not getting first-team football. We will look at the end of the season but until then, he remains at United.”

Berbatov’s ‘world-class’ talent has never been in doubt, but the end product has often been called into question, leaving fans and manager frustrated. But will you miss Berbatov when he leaves Old Trafford for the final time in May?

Poll: will you miss Berbatov?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Berbanigma

March 18, 2012 Tags: Opinion 19 comments

I don’t actually know what the weather is typically like in Bulgaria, but I’m going to guess that the winters are chilly. And a good job too, because Dimitar Berbatov will have had some practice at being out in the cold; his position in the Manchester United pecking order is a solid fourth choice.

Rooney’s season has been an odd one. Full of output, with – at the time of writing – 20 league goals in United’s chase for a 20th league title, he has suffered from patches of less impressive form, and his all round game has perhaps not hit the peaks of his ability. Whilst he is part of the conversation for the coveted position of “World’s Third Best PlayerTM“, few would argue that he has made it his own.

Chicharito is, well, Chicharito. He’s a goal machine – in a season where injury prevented a proper run in the team, he looked sharp and effective in patches – his first goal in the 5-0 win against Bolton Wanderers, for example, was a masterclass of how to lose a defender and get on the end of a cross. When it works, Chicharito is an absolutely perfect foil for Rooney, creating huge gaps in defences using the ancient hidden art of “running.”

After a debut season packed full of vital goals and excitement, this season has been slightly less explosive, but still effective – 11 goals, of which several have been absolutely key. Chicharito scored the only goals in 1-0 wins against Everton and Swansea, and the 84th minute equaliser against Chelsea. The Mexican’s build up play has been slightly lacking, although his first touch was much improved against West Bromwich Albion last week. And – whisper it – he seems to be missing the birthplace he shares with Pipo Inzaghi slightly less, being more prepared to spend time in the foreign land of ‘onside’.

Danny Welbeck is that most treasured of players – a local lad who looks like he belongs in United red at the very top of the game. In our slapstick three-all draw with ‘FC Basil’ – if it’s good enough for Gary Neville, it’s good enough for me – Welbeck looked assured and effective as a solo front man in a 4-5-1 formation. But in the 3-0 win against Tottenham back in August he had a very poor game, until he scored, at which point he appeared to turn into SuperWelbz, a version of himself with outlandish powers.

As the season has progressed, few could doubt Welbeck’s contribution to the campaign. So much so that Welbeck is probably Fergie’s first choice of foil for Rooney – although his finishing is still not quite as clinical as we would all like it to be – his nine goals in all competitions reflect a decent return for a player who adds so much to United’s all round play. Chich and Welbeck are very different players, a wonderful asset to Sir Alex Ferguson in terms of versatility, and a challenge in terms of picking the right player for the right game.

Which brings us to Dimi. Ah, Dimi. If I was as good at football as Dimitar, I would not want to be a fourth choice striker. He is an outrageously gifted footballer whose entire United career has been dogged by huge ebbs and flows of confidence, effectiveness and appearances. When he didn’t make the Champions League final bench, I was sad, but not surprised – Berbatov is many things, but he is clearly not an impact player.

He was the joint top scorer in the Premier League last season, but as has been said time and again, those goals came in bursts, and there were long barren periods in between. Berbatov stepped up immensely during Wayne’s calamitous drop in form in the early part of last season, relishing his role as the ‘man’, but his confidence seemed to drain away as Rooney’s returned. Berba did score a hat trick against Liverpool, of course, which you could argue was worth the transfer fee by itself…

That transfer fee – the millstone around Berbatov’s neck for his whole time at United. £30 million plus justified by Berbatov’s talent, and arguably by his vital contributions to a historic season, but he has never managed the consistent contribution expected by players who cost that much. He’s never become a superstar.

The question that interests me here is why? Why has Berbatov never managed to firmly establish himself as a world-beating, first-name-on-the-team-sheet type of player when he is so abundantly talented. He was a star at Tottenham Hotspur, scoring 46 times in 102 appearances, and nudging towards the mythic one in two ratio.

Berbatov was also incredibly effective for Spurs in the Europa league, scoring 12 goals in 16 games. At United, at the time of writing, Berba has 56 goals in 147 games, which is much closer to one in three. In the league for United it’s 48 in 106, which is a very decent output – certainly not one that would set alarm bells ringing. In Europe for the Reds, however, it’s five in 26 – four of which came in the 2008/09 season.

Fergie has completely given up on Berbatov in crucial Champions League games where he has any choice in the matter. The manager has also pretty much given up on Dimi in the big league games too – Chicharito didn’t take too long to be preferred, in a two-man front line, and this season Danny’s been ahead of Chich. Rooney, or indeed Welbeck, will always be a more useful as a lone forward.

I wonder what his relationship with the manager is like. Berbatov has never publicly complained about his marginalised role. If Berba was agitating for a move in the summer, which most of us surely thought would happen given the Champions League final squad, he did it out of the papers.

It must be hard to have that much talent and not be trusted. I’ve heard fans speculate that Berba didn’t want a move in the summer because, somehow, he enjoys the easy life of not playing that often for United and picking up an enormous cheque. I have no way of really knowing, but that just doesn’t sit right with me as an argument. I’ve never really thought that Dimitar looked like he wasn’t trying, just that trying for him doesn’t mean running in the way it does – or, used to – for Carlos Tevez.

“We will be taking up the option on his contract but, having had chats with him, I understand he wants to get first-team football,” said Sir Alex last week.

“It is something we need to consider at the end of the season. For a player of his age and his ability it is disappointing for him that he is not getting first-team football. We will look at the end of the season but until then, he remains at United.”

It is quite unusual for Sir Alex to speak so publicly about a player’s future, and I wonder what that says of their relationship. Certainly the public face of it has always been respectful. Berbatov describes being such a bit part figure in the club as “sad and painful,” but then goes on to talk about the importance of the team as a whole.

I wrote this article not to offer an argument, but to ask aloud the question of why Berbatov’s United career has disappointed, because I just don’t know the answer. I’ve absolutely loved watching the Bulgar ply his trade in red – he’s the kind of player that makes me like football; a magician with the ball on his best days. But maybe Berba’s never had the right assets to be a huge success at United – the capacity to deal with the pressure of the world stage.

Maybe it’s that at United he has only rarely had a team built around him, unlike at Spurs when he was the most important player in the squad. I don’t think it can be that he is lazy – he still seems really popular with the rest of the squad, and surely that wouldn’t be the case if they didn’t think he was a good professional.

Berba’s signing seemed an act of opportunism; a last-minute smash and grab to stop City getting him, so the story goes. If Fergie had his time again, I wonder if he would have decided to save that cash for someone else. Berbatov has been too often the wrong beautifully gifted, hugely talented, option for the way Fergie’s team is set up.

When Berba was signed, Sir Alex made comparisons to Eric Cantona. Sadly many United fans would peg Berba as closer to a different Eric in the pantheon of Ferguson signings. I think the critics are wrong about that, given, especially, Berbatov’s vital contributions last season. But still, he has clearly never reached the heights we would have hoped.

I love Berbatov, but I definitely can’t argue with Fergie’s pecking order. Dimitar makes even less sense in 2011/12 United than he did in those difficult spells in past seasons. I hope Dimi has – and takes – the chance to make some kind of significant contribution before he goes. Even if he does, though, when he leaves in the summer, or even by some miracle after that, the story that is written of him will be that he was at best a disappointment at United.

But that’s not what I’ll remember. I’m going to deliberately and obstinately remember the good times. That thing on the byline against West Ham United, when he crossed to Cristiano Ronaldo; the time he started an epic team goal from left back, and sauntered into the box to finish the move; that time when he scored an amazing overhead kick in the middle of a hat-trick against Liverpool, at Old Trafford; plucking the ball out of the sky and controlling it like he’d received a five-yard Michael Carrick sideways pass; and that glorious 10 minutes in Leeds when Berba pointed and shouted, stood in the right places, and generally did a pretty good job at centre-half.

A version of this article first appeared in Rant Monthly.

Play it, Dimitar

January 16, 2012 Tags: Opinion 31 comments

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.

Welbeck rise leaves Berba in the cold

August 24, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 16 comments

When Paris Saint Germain sporting director Leonardo called Sir Alex Ferguson earlier this summer the Brazilian cannot have been surprised at the answer received. No, the Scot said, to Leonardo’s polite enquiry about Dimitar Berbatov’s availability. That was a little more than six weeks ago when, flush with Qatari money, PSG remained bent on signing United’s Bulgarian as the French club’s summer marquee player.

Three games into the new season, Ferguson will have cause to reconsider his decision – a bold one at that – turning down a bid of around €20 million for a player pushing past 30 and out of contract in 10 months time. Ferguson’s decision was, of course, based on prudence. Last season’s top goalscorer offers something none of his contemporaries at Old Trafford can; the Scot has always valued a flexible range of attacking choices.

“If you look at Berbatov, Owen, Hernandez and Rooney, they all have different qualities,” Ferguson said after United’s 3-0 victory Monday night.

“You have to utilise all that and make changes as best you can. The horrible part for me now is with having Javier back, what do we do? It is going to be a big problem for me.”

Yet, Longsight-born striker Danny Welbeck has started each of United’s competitive games this season, scoring a fine header against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday night and earning a call to Fabio Capello’s England squad for the aborted friendly against Holland.

The 20-year-old’s rapid progress leaves Ferguson the tough task of managing Berbatov’s remaining time with United. Even more so given Hernández’ return to fitness that leaves Berbatov fourth choice at Old Trafford despite last season’s heroics. Moreover, while nobody doubts the Bulgarian’s talent there is seemingly a growing consensus that United’s vibrant, flexible and pacey attacking play this season is far better served with Rooney, Hernández and Welbeck leading the line, rather than the former Spurs striker.

Then there is Welbeck’s progress since recovering from a debilitating knee-problem during his teenage years. The talent has always been evident. After all Ferguson once predicted that the youngster would make Capello’s 2010 World Cup squad. The end product, however, has been honed during a year under Steve Bruce’s tutelage at Sunderland.

“Danny is a big, rangy, long-legged boy who can gallop really quickly,” Ferguson said of Welbeck, who despite the positive start to the season, has been demoted to England Under-21s this week.

“Once he gets his legs going he is quick. He is a good footballer and has a great attitude when he loses the ball. He has always had ability but made slow progress because when he was growing he had a bit of a knee growth problem, so we knew we had to wait for him.

“We put him on loan to Sunderland last season and that is when he became a man. He has grown up. He is still only 20 years of age and the lad has a great future.”

But if the future is Welbeck then the Berbatov calculation is more subtle than simply retention of multiple options. After all, Ferguson has promised Michael Owen more games this season, while Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf – neither made the bench for the Spurs game – each retain hopes of making it at Old Trafford.

For Welbeck, however, the equation is far simpler: staying in the team, with Hernández in line to start against Arsenal on Sunday.

“There is no better feeling for a Manc kid than scoring for United. I want more of it,” said Welbeck.

“It gives us [young players] confidence when the manager picks us. The gaffer has built a great squad with youth and experience in abundance. You know that once you’re in that starting eleven, you’ve got to work hard to keep your place. So I think everyone’s working hard in training and doing their best to get in the starting eleven.”

Welbeck is far from the finished article though and the player’s performance against both West Bromwich Albion and for an hour against Spurs was often mediocre. The striker’s understanding of space, his role and that of his colleagues can and will surely improve. Indeed, Ferguson’s half-time assertion that Welbeck provide more attacking presence offers an insight into the progress that United’s new star must still put in.

“I thought in the first half, Danny didn’t play as a centre forward,” added 69-year-old Ferguson.

“He was too much in midfield. We stressed at half-time that we needed more of a presence up front, we needed our targets up there and we needed someone to run through. In the second half they were much better that way and it made a difference to our game.”

Ferguson’s comments also provide another insight: Welbeck is a fast learner, evidenced by the fine 61st minute header than opened United’s account.

So is it farewell Berba the magician, enigma and eternal frustration?

August 3, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 32 comments

Money talks, most of the time. When Dimitar Berbatov chose Manchester United ahead of cross-town rivals City three years ago the Bulgarian striker was one of few to reject Eastland’s billions in favour of the glory on offer at Old Trafford. Here, one of the finest talents to grace the English game, was heading north to strengthen the newly crowned champions’ already plentiful resources.

Indeed, the former Tottenham Hotspur striker would join not only Wayne Rooney, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in a potent quartet of attacking talent. It’s a signing that didn’t quite work as Sir Alex Ferguson expected.

Three years later and Qatari-owned Paris Saint Germain is reportedly ready to pay €20 million to take the 30-year-old striker to France. It’s an offer that Ferguson is bound to take seriously, echoing the sale of Juan Sebastian Veron to Chelsea eight years ago. Once again a fabulous talent could leave Old Trafford, with potential unfulfilled

And yet there is no little irony in Berbatov’s potential departure, coming after the striker’s finest season in Manchester. In total the Bulgarian contributed 21 goals to United’s cause – 20 in the Premier League, which effectively won Ferguson’s men the title. But as the season drew to its conclusion Ferguson, as has become the norm in Berbatov’s three years with United, left his £30 million striker out of the side.

To illustrate the point, if needed, the forward failed to make the Champions League final squad at all, with the Bulgarian refusing to leave the confines of Wembley’s dressing room such was the pain. The finest season of Berbatov’s career, ruined by a dismal personal end to the campaign.

Despite this both Ferguson and United’s chief executive David Gill have been effusive in praise of the striker this summer, declaring Berbatov’s future safe with United. After all, while the player’s contract concludes in June 2012 the club has a ‘one-way’ option to extend for a further year, meaning United is in no rush to sell.

“There is an option to extend Dimitar’s contract by another year, on the club’s side,” said Gill.

“We can do it whenever we want to do it and there are no conditions around it. Everyone has been talking about Berbatov from the outside, saying he wants to leave or that we want want him to leave, but we don’t want him to go.

“We want him to stay. He scored over 20 goals last season, so there is no desire on our behalf to see him go. From our perspective he has, effectively, two years to go. We have until the end of the season, so we can assess how it goes, talk to him, see how he performs and see what happens.

“I’ve not had one conversation with Dimitar, there has been no correspondence in that respect. The decision Alex took was a decision he took for that particular game. It wasn’t a decision taken with a view that we want Dimitar to go, because we don’t.”

Dig a little deeper, however, and the player’s record holds up poorly to scrutiny; a wonderful talent that failed to deliver on the lavish promise. In this most cynical of industries supporters, indeed the club itself, is right to question whether value had been found.

The bare facts are this: Berbatov scored 21 goals in 42 games in all competitions last season. It’s a fine record at any level but a tally that included none in the Champions League, nor any against the top four, unless the Community Shield is generously awarded competitive fixture status. What’s more, of Berbatov’s 20 Premier League goals the Bulgarian scored against just five teams in the top half of the table – Newcastle, Everton, Liverpool, Bolton and Fulham.

Indeed, the player’s record in scoring predominantly against lower-ranked teams – seven came against relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool – is mirrored across his time at Old Trafford. 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.

On the raw statistics alone United might countenance a sale, despite Gill’s denial this past weekend. With £17.5 million being offered for a player now in his thirties Glazernomics alone could force the issue, with United having spent heavily this summer. After all, money talks, most of the time.

Ferguson’s odd answer to a French journalist’s questioning last night only increases the intrigue. “Yes, he might [leave],” Ferguson told French television station Direct 8. “That’s possible.”

Moreover, with Javier Hernández entrenched as Ferguson’s first choice partner for Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck looking sharp in pre-season and Michael Owen seemingly promised more action in the coming year, Berbatov’s place in the Scot’s plans is far from clear.

Much as Veron once found talent alone is not always the key to Ferguson’s heart. And should the Berbatov move to Ligue 1 this summer it will end one of the most frustrating periods of any player in United’s recent history; a very special talent unfulfilled.

Seven strikers into one doesn’t fit

June 5, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 37 comments

The surprise decision to re-sign Michael Owen means that Manchester United will have up to eight senior strikers on the books next season. With Wayne Rooney largely untouchable, Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov will be joined by returning youngsters Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf fighting for a place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Moreover, attempts to covert £8.3 million misfit Bébé into a striker leaves Ferguson with a plethora of attacking options but a group that needs rationalisation his players are not to be left without football next season.

Indeed, logic suggests only Rooney and Hernández, together with Owen, can guarantee their places in United’s squad next season, leaving Berbatov to ponder his future after being dropped for the Champions League final. Meanwhile, Ferguson’s promise to bring Welbeck back into the Old Trafford fold leaves the futures of Macheda and Diouf in doubt. The smart money is perhaps on neither being at Old Trafford before the start of next season.

In fact the decision to extend Owen’s contract to a third year at the club, despite the former Liverpool player starting just one Premier League match last season, will impact at least one Old Trafford youngster. It is a choice born of practical and financial concerns. Owen is on a heavily incentivised contract, and despite not using the 31-year-old frequently, Ferguson values the experience that the player offers. With Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Owen Hargreaves and Edwin van der Sar departing the club, experience is something Ferguson has lost in quantity.

“Michael has proved to be a top footballer,” Ferguson said of the decision to re-sign Owen.

“It’s unfortunate Michael didn’t get more opportunities but the form of Chicharito put everyone in the shade and his partnership with Rooney proved invaluable. I am delighted Michael is staying for a further year and we will look to give him more opportunities in the new season.”

Owen’s chances depend heavily on how many forwards Ferguson chooses to keep in his squad next season, in particular Berbatov who appeared in 42 games, scoring 22 goals in the season just ended. And while Ferguson may be loathe to lose a player of the Bulgarian’s class and experience, this summer is the last realistic chance that United will be able to command a sizeable fee for the striker. Ferguson is reportedly willing to consider any offer in excess of £15 million for the former Tottenham Hotspur man.

Meanwhile, Welbeck will return to the United first team squad after a successful, if injury-prone, loan spell at Sunderland last season. The Longsight-born striker scored six goals in 28 appearances for the Wearsiders and earned an England cap against Ghana in March. Yet if Berbatov stays at Old Trafford Welbeck is likely to spend most of next season on the bench. Its an observation that could lead to the 20-year-old to leave on loan once again. Although unlikely, Ferguson could also cash in on the player who is desperately wanted by Steve Bruce.

The situation is even less clear for Macheda, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Sampdoria in Serie A, helping the Genoa club to a humiliating relegation. The 19-year-old scored just once in 16 games for the doomed side in a spell now roundly regarded as a disaster. More to the point, Macheda’s decision not to remain in England – Ferguson’s preference – may well point to an eventual exit for the striker. Few players defy the manager and remain to chance the Scot’s patience a second time.

Yet, the player’s agent Giovanni Bia has repeatedly made noises about the Italian youngster remaining with United next season, denying this week a move is afoot: “There is a 90 per cent chance Federico Macheda will remain with Manchester United,” Bia said. “As far as I am aware, Manchester United intend to keep Macheda. They don’t want to loan him out again.”

However, Diouf’s chances at United appear negligible after a poor loan spell at Blackburn Rovers. Although the £3.5 million striker scored a hat-trick against Norwich in the Carling Cup last autumn, just three goals in 27 Premier League appearances as Rovers successfully fought a relegation battle tell the story of a mediocre season. The Senegalese striker has played just five times for United, scoring once, but it is hard to envision a scenario in which he can force his way into Ferguson’s plans next season.

The same can be said of Bébé, although there is no chance United will recoup anything like the £8.3 million it cost in transfer and agents fees to bring the Portuguese to the club. Bébé’s power and pace are not in doubt but regular observers of United’s second string will have noted the limited progression the 20-year-old has made in understanding the game.

The plethora of options means that some players are likely to be disappointed next season; perhaps more so if they stay at Old Trafford only to watch from the stands. Not so Owen, who this week used Twitter to declare his delight at signing the one-year extension.

“I’d rather play less in a top team that more in poor side,” said the 31-year-old, much to Newcastle United’s apparent chagrin.

Berbatov: United’s flat-track bully

May 20, 2011 Tags: Opinion 34 comments

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.