Dimitar Berbatov and Manchester United, a relationship that’s long since lost its spark. The pair are no longer compatible with one another but both seem reluctant to let go. In the space of twelve short months, the Bulgarian striker has slowly fallen from grace, going from golden boot winner to a regular in the reserves.
Berbatov topped last seasons goal-scoring charts, sharing the accolade with fellow, I mean former Manchester outcast Carlos Tevez. However, Ferguson effectively shattered the striker’s confidence in one fell swoop when he didn’t even include Berbatov on the bench in the Champions League final against Barcelona that very same year.
Since then the striker has only featured a mere ten times for United in the league, half of which have seen him emerge from the bench. His tally of seven goals looks impressive until you consider the fact that he hasn’t played against a top six side in over 14 months. He was confined to the bench in their last fixture against Fulham having previously watched the past two games from the stands and looks set for a similar role in tonight’s clash with Blackburn.
So what has the Bulgarian done wrong to warrant his exile from the first-team? The straightforward answer remains that he simply doesn’t compliment United’s style of play. As the physical demands of the Premier League increases year on year, Berbatov’s somewhat ‘laboured’ approach can no longer be tolerated. Striker’s can no longer pick their nose until the team wins back possession and instead are asked to constantly press defenders and track back, a trait that has never found its way into Berbatov’s locker.
In spite of this I feel it’s a very shortsighted and naïve move to label Berbatov as a lazy individual. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of watching him play at this best will have noticed how he picks and chooses his runs carefully, his legs might not always be in overdrive but his mind certainly is. The Bulgarian is quite capable of running 30-40 yards with or indeed without the ball at this feet but often elects to focus on his main strengths, his touch, hold-up play and diverse range of passes. This playing philosophy is unlikely to win him as many fans compared to fellow team mates that run around like the proverbial headless chicken, especially if the team is chasing a goal but I’ve always thought it incredibly harsh that he can’t seem to shift these negative stereotypes associated with his game.
Berbatov’s career hasn’t been helped by the emergence of both Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Both players are blessed with pace, an eye for goal and the admiration of the United faithful that Berbatov has struggled to eclipse. You get the impression that even Michael Owen (when fit) is above Berbatov in the pecking order simply because of his unyielding ability to score those ‘big game’ goals.
Unfortunately Berbatov’s main attributes are most similar to those of Wayne Rooney, who for one reason or another remains un-droppable. Both players like to drop astonishingly deep in search of the ball, which means that if both on are the pitch at the same time suddenly United lack a fixed point of attack. Rooney surpasses Berbatov in the sense can he can adapt his game to incorporate a number of roles, from the poacher to the deep-lying playmaker, whereas Berbatov simply cannot.
I find myself drawing comparisons with AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, both players are technically gifted and yet play the game at their own pace regardless of the events unfolding around them. Whereas Ibrahimovic has perhaps been guilty of going missing in those ‘big games’, I’d be willing to argue that Berbatov has shown time and time again that he can rise to the occasion. Be honest, how many of you reading this have already forgotten about his superb hat-trick against Liverpool last season, the first United player to do so since 1946. It was an incredible feat that’s unlikely to sit at the forefront of many fans memories.
In spite of his limited number of appearances this season and his apparent moody persona, we’ve never witnessed Berbatov mouthing off in the press. There’s no scathing magazine interviews or outbursts on Twitter and herein lies his greatest characteristic, his intellect. He is no doubt well aware of the reasons he no longer features in Fergie’s masterplan and he has come to terms with it in a dignified and honourable manner.
It remains to be seen where the Bulgarian will begin the next chapter of his career, a move to Germany is most likely but he would surely attract many clubs in both Italy and Spain. I for one would love to see him return to Spurs, past grievances aside he could lead the line as well if not better than the likes of Adebayor and with any luck, Harry has already put the wheels in motion.
Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I’ll no doubt be trying to defend Berbatov against the 30,750,000 individual reasons people will insist he was a flop.