Oftentimes sports may be (over)simplified by analysing the goings on by paralleling them with a relationship. If one were to attempt to understand the relationship of Dimitar Berbatov with the faithful, the one that develops in the film(500) Days of Summer between Tom and Summer seems to be awfully fitting.
When United signed Berbatov I was, like I assume many, ecstatic. Having become a United supporter in 2003, I fell in love with a player named Ruud Van Nistelrooy and was convinced that when United signed Berbatov in 2008 that he would be Ruud vol. two. I loved his grace. I loved his touch. I loved how he reacted when he scored a goal. I love the way he turned on the end line against West Ham to set up Ronaldo. I loved it when he scored (and still do).
Much in the same way Tom thinks of the party of Summer’s which he attends after they break up in terms of how he thought it would go versus how it actually went, many supporters had similar delusions about Berbatov. Many thought that he would be Eric Cantona reincarnated. They expected him to command a similar presence as the Frenchman on the pitch. Those who thought this forgot that there can only be one king, Eric Cantona. I do not mean this as an insult to Berbatov, but the two are just completely different.
What really happened is that United introduced Berbatov into a team that already had established scorers. A certain player named Cristiano Ronaldo had just put in a record 42 goals in all competitions. United still had Wayne Rooney, and had just signed Carlos Tevez the season before. Any team would be more than satisfied with an attack of the aforementioned three, but Sir Alex believed that the trio were missing a key element that Berbatov had in spades: patience and grace on the ball, combined with a poacher’s instinct. Nine goals is not a bad total, for sure, but his assist total in the league that season (nine) proved that he was more than simply an irrelevant bystander when it came to United’s attack.
Even after the departure of Cristiano to Real Madrid and Tevez’s move to Stockport, Berbatov found himself trumped by a teammate as the primary option in front of goal. Supporters will remember 2009/2010 as ‘The Year of Rooney’ where the boy popped in 30 goals and took the next step that we all thought he may never take after Sir Alex supposedly had in the process of making Rooney an all-around good player killed. Berbatov still managed to pop in 12 goals in the league, but again he was not the primary focus of the attack. Even in the isolated matches in which this was the case, he did not fare particularly well. Those who have never forgiven Berbatov for not scoring 35 goals in his first season at the club will point to the trip to Ewood Park as proof that the Bulgarian cannot cut it as the focal point of the attack.
Some probably thought “I hate his languid style. I hate his Transylvanian haircut. I hate his flapping arms. I hate the way he always seems not to care. I hate the way he runs for the ball. I hate the way he always misses great chances.”
Last season was the first season in which Berbatov found himself the focal point of the attack. It should come as no surprise to anyone that this also corresponded with his highest goal tally in a United shirt. His total, 20, was enough to earn him a share of the Golden Boot with Carlos Tevez. With Rooney out due to injury/marital issues/wanting to leave, Michael Owen injured and an inexperienced Javier Hernandez, Berbatov carried United through the first half of the season. His hat trick against the scum at Old Trafford proved he was capable of scoring in the big matches, and were it not for Rooney’s overhead kick, Berbatov’s would have been the goal of the season in the Premier League. This is like the part of (500) Days of Summer when Tom runs into Summer in the park after they have been broken up for some time. At first Tom is not very excited about seeing her again, but eventually comes to terms with it, and almost enjoys being around Summer again.
At the end of the film, Tom interviews with an architecture agency for an internship. In the waiting room he meets a girl for whom he develops an immediate affection named Autumn. This is very similar to how United fans now feel about Javier Hernandez. For the faithful Chicharito is the new girl that has our attention, a player who is everything many thought Berbatov would be but was not. I still think Berbatov has something to offer United going forward, but it seems without a contract extension that he will be leaving Old Trafford this summer. It would be an unsatisfying end to a very promising story.
Written by the brilliant Charles from our excellent partner site ‘The Busby Boys‘