As the world’s collective football attention shifts to international friendlies and qualifiers, those of us who find ourselves uninterested in such things are afforded ample time to stop and reflect upon the season up to this point. This week my thoughts have been of Dimitar Berbatov, a player who splits the fan base in a way few have ever done in our shirt.
Such ambivalence seems to have played its part in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selections, as the once preferred Bulgarian finds himself on the bench with frightening regularity. Since the start of 2011, the silky Bulgarian has started in 10 of 17 matches in all competitions. This is the same player who leads not only United, but the Premier League in goals scored with 20. Berbatov scored the crucial winner against Bolton after United were down to ten men, guaranteeing that United would remain top of the league, regardless of what transpired at West Brom.
Rumours of a summertime exit seem to be gaining momentum with teams like Bayern Munich and AC Milan supposedly interested in Berbatov. After watching Sir Alex stick with Berbatov during the striker’s leanest times, it shocks me now that Berbatov has found the scoring boots most United supporters believed to have been lost or left at Tottenham Hotspur that he cannot get a regular run in the side.
I understand that the rise of Javier Hernandez’s star has caused Berbatov’s to drop a bit in the United constellation. The little pea’s form has been sensational, having tallied 16 goals this season in all competitions. His goals to appearance ratio combined with Rooney’s return to form has left Berbatov watching from the bench.
Most supporters find this to be a good problem for the manager to have. I am sure that many managers would love to have to choose from Hernandez, Rooney and Berbatov on a weekly basis. But I do think there is a solution to this good problem, and it is this: play Rooney in an advanced midfield role, just behind the two strikers. The gaffer utilized Rooney in this way versus Arsenal in the FA Cup and the English striker seemed to relish the opportunity, pinging passes around the pitch.
I doubt that Sir Alex will employ that formation with any regularity, but it is one that could pay dividends in the three competitions that United remain a part of. And I am sure that Dimitar Berbatov will have a role to play in all three, come the end of the season. Whether he remains at the club after this year remains a mystery. I certainly hope that he does, being one of his biggest fans. Berbatov has proven his worth to the manager by scoring the beautiful and ugly goal and partnering well with either Rooney or Hernandez. And he has shown his class by not complaining about a lack of playing time. That, in and of itself, is worthy of any United fan’s respect and admiration.