How to score goals for Manchester United and alienate people

You have to have sympathy for Dimitar Berbatov . Just as things seemed to be finally fitting into place at Man Utd , it all seems to have come full circle again. After a couple of indifferent seasons since his £30.75m move from Tottenham Hotspur , he seemed to be finally winning over the fans and critics. I mean, put yourself in his shoes (or Adidas boots); you’re top scorer in one of the world’s top leagues, have scored a hat trick, including a spectacular winning goal, against your team’s biggest rivals and you’ve helped your team to a record breaking title. Yet, as the season drew to a close he seemed to be as popular as a fart at a funeral, with him unable to even get a spot on the bench for the Champions League final.

So where did all go wrong this season? After that match-winning performance against Liverpool and further impressive outings including the 5 goal return against Blackburn, it was inconceivable that he would be dropped. But a closer look at the circumstances can help put this into context. This was all happening in a back drop of Wayne Rooney looking to leave the club, as well as scoring more off the pitch than on it, Javier Hernandez coming to terms with the physical nature of the Premiership and Michael Owen ’s ongoing injury problems; thus leaving United with one in-form striker.

As the season progressed, with Rooney and ‘Chicharito’ finding both good form and an understanding partnership, Berbatov began to find opportunities difficult to come by. And with United’s performances lending more to hard graft and persistence, Berbatov’s style of play inevitably singled him out for criticism. His movement or enthusiasm to get involved can almost appear lethargic at times, and for every moment of sublime skill or inch perfect passing, there are many where he can be mistaken for being lazy and uninvolved. He sometimes gives the impression that he doesn’t wish to waste any unnecessary energy, or make any movement not required.

Compare this with Hernandez, who is constantly on the move and has the look of someone who has had a couple of Duracell* batteries inserted into him (* other brands are available!). When fans or critics are watching a team who are not playing particularly well, or struggling for quality, there is no doubt a player who is visibly showing a keenness to get involved is always going to be favoured over one who appears to shy away from hard work.

Alongside this, it is fairly clear the combination of Rooney and Hernandez is more compatible than that of Rooney and Berbatov. Despite 2009-10’s career best goal return for Rooney, when he played primarily as an out and out striker, he is much more comfortable dropping off and looking for the ball. This of course conflicts with Berbatov’s playing style, and usually results in neither being available in the box if a cross is delivered. In contrast, Hernandez rarely moves off the last defender and is always on the move in or around the box. These two styles complement each other perfectly. So unless Rooney is dropped, or United play 3 up front it’s hard to see a way back in for Berbatov aside from a big drop in form for Hernandez. As for earning a place on the bench, Berbatov’s other issue is he doesn’t give the impression of someone who can change a game if he’s given 15-20 minutes. Unlike an Owen or a Hernandez, it seems he needs to be involved from the off and work his way into a game, which probably explains why he failed to make the bench for the Champions League final.

So where does that leave him for next season? Well, Fergie is known for being fairly ruthless with players, including expensive ones (Veron for example) but I’d imagine unless a decent offer (£15m plus) comes in he’s unlikely to be pushing him out the door. However with a number of young strikers returning, including the lively Danny Welbeck and Fergie seemingly having money to spend, it might be another long season for Berbatov if he’s still at Old Trafford come August 31.

Article courtesy of Patrick Farnan from This Is Futbol