Manchester United Player Focus – Dimitar Berbatov

The final piece of the puzzle. That was the term buzzing around Old Trafford on 1st September 2008 after Manchester United concluded the signing of Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur for £30.75m. The season before was one of United’s best in recent history when they won the double, including their first Champions League trophy since 1999. The strike force consisted of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, two men who couldn’t play together as they were so alike, so we were told. Yet the partnership was perfect, and the players complemented each other with their robust nature, continuous pressurising of the opposition defence and had great chemistry, even if Tevez couldn’t speak a word of English. Yet there was something missing. There was no focal point up top, nobody who surpassed 6ft. This is where Berbatov was meant to come in, to expand the capabilities of the team and to offer new ideas.

In his two years in north London, Berbatov had a very impressive record of 46 goals in 102 matches, and surrounded with better players you would have expected him to exceed that record in Manchester. Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case. In 87 matches he has only scored 27 goals, averaging a goal every three games, which is on average a match more than when at White Hart Lane. People will tell you that stats aren’t everything, strikers these days don’t need to score 20 goals a season and that might be the case, but Berbatov doesn’t seem to do enough to warrant this backing. Indeed he is very much the scapegoat. Things are going wrong, why is he playing?

In England if a player gives his all, then he will be backed by supporters. Desire and 100% effort mean almost as much to fans as 30 goals a season and this is why Berbatov is difficult to defend. He has his own nonchalant style in which he will roam about the pitch and slow the tempo. Yes he is conserving energy, but what does he use it for? He isn’t remarkably fast, and he never seems to break into his stride. He pulls so deep that sometimes he is alongside the likes of Paul Scholes.

A factor which didn’t help the Bulgarian was his price tag. Tottenham are known to be tough sellers, forcing clubs to pay over the top for their players. Then there were the comparisons between himself and the King in Manchester, Eric Cantona. Whether he has the mentality to play for such a big club is in question, but his talent defiantly warrants it. The issue is his consistency; he doesn’t influence games as much as he should. That’s not to say he hasn’t had highlights, because he has. The infamous assist for Cristiano Ronaldo against West Ham when he grafted a drag back from nowhere, scoring against Chelsea, the sublime overhead kick against Sunderland, the flick and volley without looking against Blackburn, and the numerous goals he has so exquisitely flicked in and as recently as this weekend with a skillfull lob over Chelsea’s Hilario in the Community Shield.

It’s these fond memories which are too scarce though for the Red Devils, and with the manager Sir Alex Ferguson backing his number 9 this season when he could have easily bought a new striker shows he has faith in Berbatov, but maybe he should have faith in himself.

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