Skulking in the dressing room as his teammates were torn apart by the magnificent FC Barcelona, Dimitar Berbatov must have been wondering what he needed to do to earn a place in a Champions League final starting XI.
2011 was set to be the Bulgarian’s third Champions League final (he had previously come on as a late substitute in losses against Real Madrid and Barcelona) only for Ferguson’s bizarre squad decision to consign him to the role of watcher on.
With twenty goals, Berbatov was Manchester United’s top scorer, but crucially all twenty had come in the Premier League. United’s record signing hasn’t scored in Europe since a double in 2008 helped the Red Devils to a 3-0 victory over Celtic. However, even with that in mind, it is shocking that a player with only two goals in twelve months (and one of them in a meaningless game) should have taken Berbatov’s place on the bench.
While the rest of the players left out of the squad sat in seats just behind United’s dugout, Berbatov was nowhere to be found, rumor had it that he had left the stadium. Though post match it did come out that he had stayed in the dressing room, Berbatov’s future remained shrouded in mystery, and the club are still stalling on offering him a new contract.
I for one would be sad to see him leave. Over his three years at the club, Berbatov has supplied the Old Trafford faithful with a myriad of magical moments. Remember the turn and cross against West Ham, the bicycle against Liverpool and the magical five which tore apart Blackburn Rovers? Berbatov can be at times an enigma, a dividing force and a frustrated onlooker in games that he should be dominating, but no one can contest the quality of his skill and his poise.
Though he has a long way to go before reaching Cantona status, we must remember that the comparisons between the two are uncanny. Both possess a pair of magical feet, and the sort of arrogance which makes the World’s most difficult and technical game look like child’s play. Cantona came back from adversity after his kung fu kick, and did so with the full support of the fans. In return, the Frenchman brought yet more silverware back to Old Trafford, and we must trust that if Berbatov is given sufficient backing then he can do the same.
“I will fight for the twentieth title. There will be new finals and we will be fighting for new titles. I am moving ahead. When you go through difficult times, you should not quit. Everything at Manchester United starts from scratch for me on July 4th.”
That statement embodies exactly why Berbatov is a fitting bearer of the Manchester United flag. While some would have sulked, cried and whined after being left out of such a massive game, Berbatov has come out with a message of redemption, a determination to prove himself, qualities inherent in Sir Alex Ferguson’s philosophy.
As top scorer, Berbatov was probably expecting inclusion in the squad, especially as the alternative was a man who had hardly had a look in all season. That expectation makes Berbatov’s humility all the more impressive, it is refreshing to see someone so committed to the cause, someone willing to risk spending the final years of his career on the bench so as to prove himself as a Manchester United player.
Ever since sealing his thirty million pound move in 2008, Berbatov has maintained that he plays football for the pure joy of it, and to entertain. While the lanky Bulgarian has not managed to score thirty million pounds worth of goals, he certainly has managed to entertain.
I really can’t think of anything much more beautiful than Berbatov in full flow, gliding across the football pitch, keeping the ball glued to his feet with that immaculate touch of his. You can be sure that if at all possible Berbatov will make good on his word. Yes, he will fight on, and wouldn’t it just be quintessential United if he played a starring role in next year’s Champions League showpiece…