The Case of Berbatov

Ask  any top footballer and chances are you’ll be told that Dimitar Berbatov is a great footballer. Ask any Spurs fan and they’ll probably tell you he’s a prat (anyone who leaves usually is) but they’ll say he was a world class forward. Ask a United fan and you’ll get differing views. So what do we make of the enigmatic Bulgarian?

As much as United have failed to see the best of him, or anywhere near the best of him, there is little doubt that he is a great forward. But why have United not seen this? In Germany he was impressive. At Spurs he was magical. At United he’s been a 30m flop. And is that the reason? £31m is closer to the exact figure and it made him United’s most expensive player. That comes with a lot of expectation. Expectation is just that – it is not always delivered. At Spurs he formed a dangerous partnership with Robbie Keane. They both left Spurs and have not been as dangerous since. Was the partnership one made in heaven? The stats sure make it look so. They formed the perfect foil, Berbatov the energy conserving, wonderful touch player, with keane the energetic, unorthodox forward. They both like to come deep, but in different ways. keane hurries back, rushing at the defence to regain possession. Berbatov waits in open space and looks to unlock defenses. They both scored goals too.

At United Berbatov arrived when Tevez and Rooney were the front two. Clearly from where the season went Berbatov was bought to play with Rooney and Tevez was moved on. Many United fans use this as the reason for Berbatov’s unpopularity. They would rather have Tevez. Yet Fergie wanted and got Berbatov to play with Rooney.

After a season of bedding in much was expected of Berbatov this year. It hasn’t happened. It’s even got to a stage that United prefer to play with just Rooney upfront and Berbatov sits on the bench. In truth he is not a player in decline, but one who isn’t suited to United. United players are full of energy and work rate. Berbatov isn’t. They style and system is not suited to him and it’s Rooney that is the focal point of play, as it should be. Berbatov was an idea that looked good but just hasn’t worked. What this has meant is that he hasn’t had the game time to be effective or to adapt and fit in with the United way. He starts, sits on the bench for a few weeks, then plays again. He needs to be playing week in and week out, and maybe if he had been United would be seeing a different Berbatov, the Spurs version. But with things so tight at the top, in terms of domestic and Europe, United don’t have the luxury of sticking with a learning player.

So Berbatov may be shipped off, at a loss, next season. Don’t be surprised if wherever he finds himself next season we see goals and energy from the forward. Maybe he’ll still be at United. Maybe he’ll be able to play in their system. Maybe he’ll be a success. Maybe.

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