Flashes of brilliance best defines Dimitar Berbatov’s Manchester United career to date, (the sublime goal line turn and flick to set up Ronaldo against West Ham comes to mind), but surely £30m warrants more than intermittent touches of class.
At the time of writing, his career at Old Trafford represents just 17 goals in 57 appearances. Ferguson and United supporters alike will generally defend Berbatov, and so they should. Most other clubs would do the same for their most expensive signing, but supporters can be so fickle.
Whilst at Tottenham it was Berbatov’s touch, vision and more importantly goals that grabbed Sir Alex Ferguson’s attention. The partnership he struck with Robbie Keane made them as revered as any in the Premiership.
Berbatov was Tottenham’s player of the season 2006-07 and was also named in the Premier League PFA team that very year – only one of three non-United players to make the list.
Berbatov soon realised his personal ambition was to be rubbing shoulders with those in the top echelons of European football. It appears though he was far more comfortable playing in the Lilywhite of Tottenham than he is in the red of United.
Keane brought the best out of Berbatov at Spurs and vice-versa. It is no coincidence that over the two seasons Keane was playing alongside Berbatov, the Irish captain accumulated more goals than in any other seasons whilst at The Lane – 22 goals in 06-07, 23 goals in 07-08, (all competitions).
They were working towards the sort of understanding that made Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke so prolific for United in the late 90’s. At Old Trafford though Berbatov has continually been battling against his reputation.
In the Premiership last season he failed to hit double figures and being on the bench in the Champions League Final against Barcelona, in essence, summed up his first season.
The biggest club in the world unquestionably expect more from their most expensive asset. With Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez out of the picture this season is his chance, maybe with a different approach, to become as indispensable as the aforementioned Portuguese captain.
But Berbatov’s performance against Liverpool at Anfield typified the flaws many see in him. United as a unit were poor, but the languid style of their number 9 only reinforced their failings. They came alive briefly when Michael Owen made a cameo; his endeavour though was more a personal vendetta of a man desperate to prove a point.
Berbatov’s lethargic tendencies were identified at Spurs but his link-up play and goals concealed that trait. He is technically gifted and has an astute footballing brain, both facets that originally attracted Ferguson. The Bulgarian must delve deeper to rediscover what made him.
A measure as to what is expected of a £30m player can be seen in Liverpool’s record signing Fernando Torres, granted he was £10m cheaper than Berbatov. But it is safe to say the Anfield jury barely took their seats, he gave them no choice but to adore him.
How much longer can Manchester United’s record signing fail to live up to his reputation and maybe more importantly, his hefty price tag. Evidently, pressure to score goals can be a dividing line between success and failure at Manchester United, Diego Forlan will testify to this.
Hypothetically it would be interesting to see how Spurs supporters would receive a Berbatov return if he became available tomorrow. He left under a cloud of discontent formed by the fans at Tottenham, which was based mostly on his attitude; they did not ever question his ability.
The fact remains, Dimitar Berbatov does not have the demeanour of Manchester United’s most expensive player, it seems a burden more than a source of inspiration.
If the murmurings drifting around Fleet Street are to be believed then Ferguson is looking at one of, if not the hottest striker in Europe, Valencia’s David Villa. With the kitty from Ronaldo’s sale still relatively untouched and Valencia’s desperate need to balance their books, a rumour such as this seems plausible.
The United boss would not like to admit failure on his or Berbatov’s behalf, but unless the latter can shake off his enigmatic status then the day may come where Ferguson may have to.