On this day in history, 30 years ago – a young lad was born to sporting parents Ivan and Margerita Berbatov in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.
Ivan, a professional footballer and his handballer wife saw their son Dimitar grow up to follow in his fathers footsteps, signing youth forms at home town club Pirin Blagoevgrad until CSKA Sofia, Bulgaria’s most famous club snapped him up.
He’d make his professional debut there as an 18 year old, and impressed so much that he was once kidnapped by the Bulgarian gangster and now killed Georgi Iliev, as he tried to persuade him to sign for his club Levski Kjustendil.
Berba didn’t sign, and instead left Sofia in 2001 after scoring 26 goals in 49 games for them to join Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.
Here he would spend five years playing for the German club, starring for them in a 2-1 Champions League defeat to Manchester United, where he scored a very well taken goal. This goal, and his Champions League performances made Europe sit up and take note of the Bulgarian’s abilities, and his record of 69 goals in 154 games was very well respected.
It would be Tottenham Hotspur who would bring him over to the Premier League in 2006. The move saw Spurs pay £10.9m for him, and that figure would see Berbatov become the most expensive Bulgarian footballer in history.
Anyone in England who didn’t know much about Berbatov soon would.
His demenour on the pitch brought about a surprising package of class, technique and skill, and the new number 9 for Spurs was starting to turn heads.
In a great first season in London, Berba scored 23 goals – many of them with the class and precision that befits a striker of the highest pedigree. It wouldn’t be long before he was starting to be linked with other clubs.
12 months later, Berbatov had caught the eye of Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, who had been reported by Spurs for tapping up their Bulgarian star. Finishing the season on 15 goals, the media had linked him with a move away from White Hart Lane for sometime, but as pre-season passed by, and the transfer window of 2008 approached, the boss of the new European Champions said that a transfer to United had become unlikely. Berba wasn’t happy, he wanted away and this affected him so much that Spurs omitted him from their squad for their opening matches of the season.
It was newly mega-rich Manchester City who had a bid accepted for him just before the window closed, and Berbatov travelled up to Manchester…but the striker didn’t even contemplate a move to Manchester’s second club.
“Dimitar…Berbatov…One look at City and he said…” you know the rest. That’s what the United fans would sing as Ferguson finally got his man, when Berbatov travelled to Old Trafford for talks and a medical, and became the new Manchester United number 9.
Since signing for United, he has come in for critisicm from some quarters, primarily from those who believe that strikers should be judged solely on goals. They may be surprised to learn he celebrates his birthday after scoring 40 goals in 84 games for the reds, and his ability to create, hold and not waste the ball and give the team something extra where other can’t has never faltered.
“Nobody can take my smile away. I play for Manchester United” Berba said in 2010.
Happy 30th, Dimitar. You present will be glistening and waiting for you in May.
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