Confidence remains the most sought after commodity in the professional game. Such a curious phenomenon can make artists out of artisans and turn even the most talented player into a hesitant shadow. Dimitar Berbatov is a player who is shouldering the burden of Manchester United’s likely loss of the Premier League crown. Much of it is due to the expectations that occur when joining Old Trafford, even more so when such a transfer fee is attached, but much of it is also unreasonable anger finding its nearest, easiest target.
The advantages of laying the blame at Berbatov’s saccharine feet means that some of United’s failings can be glossed over and neatly compartmentalised instead of addressed. The Bulgarian’s shortcomings have been as much the setup of United this year as it has been the fault of the striker himself. I will admit to my long standing affection for Berbatov; technically as proficient as they come, possessing a truly otherworldly first touch, and exhibiting in his professional career a deftness that rarely accompanies execution in elite sport. Does this mean I am ignorant to the anticlimaxes of his performances for United? No. Despite my partiality I am aware to the blindingly obvious: he has not found a home for himself in the red shirt.
His critics point to a lack of goals – his misses against Sunderland on the weekend soldered his season to one of missed opportunities. I can point to 12 league goals in 23 starts and say it’s still a respectable return. Respectable isn’t what such an astronomical transfer fee demands however. Nothing but stellar will suffice. His critics may offer paradigmatic maxims such as ‘he slows down the play too much’ or ‘doesn’t make enough telling contributions’. In the two seasons he has been at United he has assisted the second most number of goals, only behind Ryan Giggs. His critics point to a lack of passion in his play (‘languid’ is a word that been etched into the vocabulary of any watcher of his game by commentators across the country). I can point to a very tangible lack of understanding, especially from the English public, as to the differences between style and output. Some would say it ludicrous that Berbatov has covered more ground than Rooney in any of their matches together but it is true.
Despite anything an ardent admirer can say the truth remains that for the really important matches Dimitar Berbatov is not selected. Barring his contributions against Tottenham he has looked a figure lacking confidence, lacking the inherent degree of arrogance required to be that type of player. Many fans considered Rooney’s absence a ‘chance’ for Berbatov but the truth is that, against Bayern in the second leg for example, Ferguson would rather field an outright injured Wayne Rooney over Dimitar Berbatov. How can that action imbibe confidence? To expect a player to come in and fill the void that Rooney left, against Chelsea no less, in a system that has been played all season with the PFA Player of the Year at its centre, well, that’s expecting a little too much. I still feel he should have done better but I can understand the reasons why he cannot influence games in the same way his talent suggests he should.
For those who believe Berbatov should be sold in a bid to recoup some of his transfer fee, I must point out that without him it leaves only Wayne Rooney (Michael Owen cannot be considered a striker for the club due to his perennial injury crises). That would leave Ferguson needing a replacement for the Bulgarian (as well as needing another striker anyway). I maintain there is nothing left to lose by allowing Berbatov to stay another season. With some creativity injected into the midfield and a sustained chance to play with a strike partner there is still hope – I would argue there should always be hope for a player with his ability – because the glimpses we have seen are ones of technical brilliance. If however Ferguson plans to employ one striker next term then it appears Berbatov will be relegated to the ignominy of Old Trafford could-have-beens.
My respect for Dimitar Berbatov stems from his propensity to make the extremely difficult seem perfunctory. I have seen him control 70 yard punts from a goalkeeper as though his boot, and the ball, was made from Velcro. Whilst I completely understand that football is as much about talent as it is mentality, management, and luck I would be betraying my beliefs about what I find most attractive in the sport if I could not back a player who – I believe – possesses skills that others cannot begin to articulate, let alone emulate.
I would also agree that many criticisms levelled at Berbatov have been pitched with firm foundations; he simply has not delivered to a standard many expected of him, regardless of a formation that does not suit his needs. Manchester United is a place where Dimitar Berbatov needs to stamp his own imprimatur of class and bend his needs to that of the club’s. I continue to feel that, in theory, both have yet to reap the real benefits from this relationship but as with any theory the proof is in the practise and it simply hasn’t materialised yet.
If you enjoyed this, you can follow me on Twitter