Forlorn, languid, lazy, lack of confidence?
When a player is the subject of a 30 million transfer fee in the market, the subject is expected to deliver. Though the occasional glimpse of genius has been seen at Dimitar Berbatov’s Old Trafford career, the phrases in the opening line have been associated with the Bulgarian to date.
Alex Ferguson chased his man for well over a year, and if rumors are to be believed, showed a passing interest in the player during his highly successful spell in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.
Berbatov was a prodigy in his homeland at the beginning of his career, the main man (or boy) at SCKA Sofia before heading for the more competitive Bundesliga to Leverkusen.
He first gained worldwide attention as a substitute in the 2002 champions league final against Real Madrid. Two years later, he was undoubtedly the main man for his country and heir apparent to Hristo Stoitchkov as Bulgaria endured a disappointing Euro 2004 campaign, losing all their games. Berbatov couldn’t be faulted though, as Bulgaria back then (and still) are light years away from the halcyon days of USA 1994.
When Tottenham Hotspur signed Berbatov in 2006, only people who had seen him play knew what a coup it was. Like the Leverkusen adventure, Berbatov signed for a club that were not quite at the top but ambitious, a smart move to guarantee a bit of playing time.
Berbatov’s impact was immense, and hero status was immediately bestowed on him from the White Hart Lane faithful. A sublime touch with the football, an imaginative passer, and above all, a scorer of great goals saw him follow in the footsteps of Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola as a genuine fan favourite. For two seasons he was the first name on the teamsheet, his ability to amaze putting him in the upper echelon of the league’s players.
Berbatov’s time at White Hart Lane soured, however, as his petulant side triggered a long drawn out and rumoured move to Manchester United. His demeanor during the whole affair put him on a par with Sol Campbell, and the ex fan favourite has now become a hate figure at the club.
It would be unfair to call Berbatov a mercenary however, as a player usually only gets one chance to join Manchester’s (for now) top club. His reputation as a spoilt player doesn’t do reports of his general attitude justice. A shy man, even somewhat sensitive, he has learned to be tough after the events that caused him to leave CSKA Sofia. Castigated by the fans for turning his back on the club he loved, he never really got over the hurt he went through after being shunned by the club he loved. So if he wanted to leave Spurs, it should have been a doddle of a decision for him.
His arrival at Old Trafford made the new side look immense. Current League and European champions, they now had a player who was one of the most sought after players in Europe. The attacking talents of Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and Berbatov seemed like a dream combination that would surely bring United into an era of dominance.
There were moments in Berbatov’s first season that had fans remembering fondly of the mercurial Eric Cantona. I remember one such performance against Hull last season where he seemed to run the game.
Berbatov’s first season was largely a letdown however. He didn’t seem to bring anything to the table most games, was overshadowed by the exploits of Rooney and Ronaldo, and whenever he got a kick, Carlos Tevez. The United fans were vehemently in favour of the little Argentine workhorse as a starter instead of the disinterested looking Berbatov. His approach to the game divided opinion, a portion of the United fans saying that Berbatov was playing the way he was supposed to, but the majority made it known that £30million had been paid for a “striker”, and 9 league goals wasn’t enough of a contribution to the side.
The lowpoint of last season was a weakly hit penalty straight at Tim Howard in the FA Cup semi-final penalty shootout against Everton. It was the kind of penalty that could send the keeper the wrong way but still travel at the pace that would allow a goalie to get his breath, ponder for a minute, and eventually reach for the catch. When introduced in the Champion’s League defeat to Barcelona, he was missing when it was hoped he could be some inspiration.
ALL EYES ON NUMBER 9
During the summer major changes happened at United, as you know. With Tevez and Ronaldo gone, Berbatov would be a major part of this seasons challenge, and should things go wrong, and they have at times already, his presence would be called under scrutiny.
This season Berbatov has had his critics, alot of them. But this last week has seen a man who could be capable of changing his perceived lack of ambition. He has already stated that last season he was not at his best, and that he must change his game around to perform at the level that Manchester demands. Last week at Stoke, he got a badly needed goal that every forward needs. In the champions League match against Wolfsberg this week, his appearance off the bench inspired United to play somewhat near they’re capable of, setting up several chances when there had been none previous. United managed to win 2-1.
His goal yesterday though had been real quality. As United struggled to create anything against Sunderland, the cross into him was met superbly by a sublime piece of skill, a right footed overhead volley from out of nowhere leaving the Sunderland keeper with no chance whatsoever.
In one week, Berbatov has had some sort of say in three matches for the red devil’s when others have been missing.
If he continues to produce magical moments such as yesterday on a regular basis, there may very well be a successor to King Eric!
One thing is for certain, this season is definitely make or break for the bulgarian.