As the transfer window draws to a close, one of Manchester United’s most enigmatic players has departed in a relatively low-key affair to London-based club; Fulham. Low key that is, compared to his dramatic deadline day signing in 2008.
As a Manchester United fan, watching the events unfold was extremely exciting. I sat on the edge of my seat whilst the clock slowly but surely moved towards 11:00PM. Did they leave it too late? Would he sign in time? Well now we know that he did, but at that time, it was nail-biting stuff!
When his four year contract had been signed and it was all official, I not only felt a sense of relief, but also a sense of excitement. I mean, Manchester United had just spent £30m on one player. It’s just not the sort of thing that happened, even four years ago.
Not only that, but Dimitar Berbatov. Honestly, the only adjective which I can use to accurately describe this man, not the player, the man, is class. He oozes class. No Mario Balotelli, not “swag.” CLASS.
He had trouble fitting into the squad, but we blamed that on the fact that he needed to settle in. I will not deny the fact that after the first half of the season, I was a sceptic.
He seemed, large and cumbersome. He obviously had to change his game for the transition from Spurs to United. He was no longer the ‘main man’ so to speak. I think that this is what the problem was. He seemed like he needed to be the focal point, for everyone to work around him, at his pace. But this seemed impractical when Old Trafford was home to one of the most powerful attacking triumvirates in Premier League history. He could not match Ronaldo’s speed or skill, he could not match Tevez’s hunger or desire and he could not match Wayne Rooney’s power or versatility.
Maybe he thought that his time would come. With Rooney dropping back as he made way for Tevez and Ronaldo, he may have thought that as Ronaldo’s departure was imminent, Sir Alex Ferguson would do things the way that he wanted to do them. Yet, as both Ronaldo and Tevez left, Wayne Rooney seemed to find his shooting boots. He filled the void of goals which the media thought couldn’t be filled. But that was Berbatov’s job. Rooney scored 34 goals in all competitions in the 2009/10 season, his personal best at the time.
Clearly Rooney could not be ignored. Not just because he seemed to be more successful than Berbatov in front of goal, but also because of his ability to drop into midfield, his passion and desire to help his team out.
To my younger and more foolish self at that time, he seemed lazy. I knew that he had superb ability, but I was just willing him to work harder, and get selected. But no, it took me a long time to realise that this was not laziness, he was merely only using his energy when he needed it. Why run when you can walk through Ewood Park, from box to box and become the only foreign player ever to score 5 goals in a Premier League match? Or float in the air against Liverpool and place the ball into the back of the net? Or even flick the ball past a West Ham defender on the byline to gift Ronaldo a goal? He’s not lazy, he is merely wise. Players like Messi are foolish, running around the pitch for 90 minutes, no wonder his hair is a mess. Have you ever seen Berbatov with a hair out of place? Never.
In the 2010/11 season, Berbatov seemed to find goals. Some superb matches against Liverpool and Blackburn lead him to a Golden Boot Award after netting 20 goals and also lead the club to our 19th League Title. It is a myth that he only scored in a few games against poor opposition, when in fact, his goals were relatively well spread out. That was his best season. But when he was left out completely from Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans in the UEFA Champions League Final, it seemed as though Berba’s relationship with Fergie was at an all time low. He spent most of the 2011/12 season either on the bench or in the stands. Eagerly offering his services, but not being chosen. Many modern footballers would have “chucked their dummy out” so to speak, yet Dimitar never spoke ill of his club and continued to train and go on the pre-season tour as normal.
Because of his penchant for the Godfather trilogy, his perfectly slicked back hair and his smoking habit, I have always had this vision of Dimitar strolling through defences at The Theatre Of Dreams wearing a smoking jacket whilst smoking a pipe. But alas, it was never to be…
Ultimately, I feel that it is a shame that he did not fit into Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans, but even so, it has been a pleasure witnessing truly effortless football from a gentleman. Berbatov’s respect for this football club is something that is rare in today’s game and as a fan, I’d truly like to thank him for that, and also scoring 20 League Goals to lead us to our record 19th Premier League Title. Thank you Dimitar Berbatov, and goodbye. We wish you well.