It was interesting to see the reaction of fans when it was announced that Dimitar Berbatov was likely to be moving on this summer.
Criminally under used here, the classy striker no longer fits our intended style of play with the team shifting to an emphasis on speed.
With that in mind the likes of Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez are all better options thus the man that cost £30.75m, a club record, hasn’t played since the teams loss to Ajax back in February.
Some feel the writing has long been on the wall for the Bulgarian and wonder why it has taken both sides this long to come to this decision but it isn’t easy to just walk away from a club like Manchester United and it’s isn’t easy to just get rid of a player with Berbatov’s immense talent.
But finally it comes to this stage, capping off what has been an and down 4 years for the striker.
I’d like to start by saying that Berbatov is criminally under rated by some fans (ours and others) as well as pundits. Technically he is wonderful to watch, with a first touch that makes it seem he would be able to control the moon if it was played to him.
We’ve seen him do amazing things, the goal Ronaldo scored against West Ham where Berbatov kept the ball from going out after a heavy through ball from Anderson, then danced away from James Collins before playing to Ronaldo who was left with a simple tap in, is one of the finer things we are ever going to see at Old Trafford and it isn’t a one off. All through his time at the club you can see deft touches and flicks, touches and flicks that actually serve a purpose too rather than to look fancy.
But his task to make it here was always going to be Sisyphean ( Sisyphus was the man in Greek mythology who was tasked with pushing a boulder up a hill only to see it roll back down when he neared the top). If the hefty price tag wasn’t enough, then comparisons with Eric Cantona were extremely unfair.
The French man sits in a pantheon with few other United players so to thrust that kind of expectation on Berbatov’s shoulders was, for me, always setting him up for the fall. Cantona was the star at United, as Berbatov was in his spell at Tottenham, but when he came here he had to contend with the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez up front as well as a plethora of names spread out through the team, very much meaning he was no longer ‘the man’.
Berbatov isn’t the only person to suffer from something like this. In Graham Hunter’s book Barcelona: The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World, he tells of a game where Thierry Henry, fresh from his move from Arsenal, plays a pass to Iniesta and when the outcome of Iniesta’s next move isn’t to his liking he stands there with his arms out signalling as to how he wanted Iniesta to react. The supposedly tepid Iniest was having none of it though and with his reaction, let Henry know exactly where he was and how HE should have reacted.
Henry would have got away with this back at Highbury where he was the overseer of a team built for him, but at the star packed Nou Camp, he was just another piece of the puzzle and whilst Berbatov for me doesn’t show the arrogance of Henry, he too found himself in a similar position.
Despite having to get used to the fact that he was no longer the main attraction, Berbatov settled down to his work but for the price we paid for him grumblings began. Accusations of him not scoring enough goals, being lazy (go back and watch Sky Sports’ coverage of the goal I described earlier, even the skill he used to beat Collins is described as ‘lazy’) etc were levelled at him. In 2010 I feel Dimitar Berbatov was forced to shoulder the burden of Manchester United’s failure to retain the title after we were pipped by Chelsea. That game against Blackburn at Ewood Park will constantly be used to flog him (despite the fact there were 10 other players on the field and we had 37 other games).
The following season Berbatov got a sense of redemption as his 20 league goals helped United snatch the title back from Chelsea. In the months where Wayne Rooney was off the boil, it was Berbatov’s goals that helped keep United afloat including a stunning hat trick against Liverpool at Old Trafford and a remarkable 5 goals against Blackburn yet there were still complaints: he only scored against small teams, his goals came in bunches rather than being spread out.
In his best goal scoring season at the club there was a threat lurking in the background that would prove ‘fatal’ to his ambitions at Old Trafford.
Whilst Rooney was finding his feet and Berbatov was leading the line, the unheralded Javier Hernandez was building a following with his goal scoring feats. The Mexican was slowly captured the hearts and the imaginations of the fans as well as the press as Hernandez harked back to the days of the proper predatory goalscorer.
The wholesome, ever smiling ‘Chicharito’ was the perfect juxtaposition to the brooding Romantic hero like figure of the 1800s the papers tried to depict Berbatov as (You could easily have imagined Berbatov as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or some other such piece of literature).
Hernandez linked well with Rooney and the Scouse striker spoke publicly of how much he enjoyed playing with the Mexican and this all conspired to move Berbatov from the spotlight to the shadows. Slowly, despite being the teams top scorer, he found playing time hard to come by and by the end of the season his place had been usurped by Hernandez.
Things came to head in May at Wembley when he was left out of the team that faced Barcelona in the Champions League final, with Rooney and Hernandez starting and Owen on the bench. It was reported that Berbatov left the stadium in tears (he didn’t, instead preferring to remain in the dressing room as United were pulled apart by the wizardry of Xavi, Messi and co).
Looking back on the decision, it was definitely strange not to at least have him on the bench. Barcelona played an impressive offside trap neutralising Hernandez and when he did get the ball upfield he was rarely able to hold on to it, something that Berbatov specialises in, thus being able to bring his team mates into the game.
But of course every one is a genius after the event and this isn’t to say that Berbatov would have been able to stop us receiving such a heavy drubbing.
Things have carried on like this this season and whilst when selected he has usually proved his worth, including a brace against Blackburn in December that almost got us out of jail, he finds his situation no better as now Danny Welbeck has emerged as yet another player to contend with.
There is no ‘perhaps’ about it now, moving on would be the best thing for Berbatov as it is obvious he still has something to offer a big side. But at the same time you can’t help but feel disappointed that things have ended the way they have, with him struggling to make the bench let alone get a game.
The more critical fan (Johnno I’m looking at you) will deem Berbatov’s spell a failure at the club but I disagree. Whilst not a roaring success, he played his part in both of the titles we won in his time here (whilst he could well get a 3rd Premier League winner’s medal I’m sure even he will be unhappy at the part he will have played in securing it) and we the fans were treated to 4 years of artistry by a man that was seemingly able to paint masterpieces at will.