Fulham manager Martin Jol recently said of his new signing Dimitar Berbatov :-
“In this market he would be £30-40million. But even if somebody offered that we would never sell him. He reminded me a bit of Johan Cruyff when he started. He’s a link-up player, he’s a finisher, he’s good in the air, he’s a target man but he can move as well. He is complete.”
Dimitar Berbatov was Manchester United’s most exciting summer signing in 2008. He was known for his cool finishing, aerial threat, pin point through balls and not to forget the sublime first touch which is probably the best in the business. All this collectively had established him as one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League. And this is what Sir Alex Ferguson had to opine after he purchased Berbatov on deadline day from Tottenham Hotspur:
“Dimitar is a great player, you can see the quality. He is fantastic. There are very few players who can produce moments like he does in games. It can decide them.”
In his first season with United, he was found competing against Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. Yet he managed 36 starts scoring 14 goals and ministering another 9 goals for his team mates. Definitely not a bad return for someone who was nearly burnt out towards the end of the season after earning 50 starts for both club and country. The way he pirouetted past West Ham defenders to set up Ronaldo for the goal was top class and the incredible first touch to bring the ball down and score against Spurs’ and another one to set up Tevez against City along with other mesmerizing performances, he had silenced most critics who had questioned the price paid for his transfer.
Berbatov’s second season at Old Trafford saw United’s top goal poachers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, leave for Real Madrid and rivals Manchester City respectively. In addition, Antonio Valencia was bought from Wigan Athletic and Micheal Owen from a free transfer. Sir Alex Ferguson had decided to move back to his original 4-4-2 formation to inculcate a more direct attacking approach. Berbatov was mainly used as a deep lying forward starting the attack and feeding the ball to Valencia. Harshly criticized by many supporters for slowing up the play, Berbatov’s ability to hold the ball well and wait for other attacking options to get ahead on the pitch was scintillating. The counter attacking display of Berbatov, Valencia and Rooney was a joy to behold.
The 2010-11 season saw the emergence of Nani and SAF moving from 4-4-2 to a more dynamic version of 4-4-1-1. Rooney occupied the position behind the striker while Berbatov became the focal point of the attack similar to his Spurs days. 21 goals in just 32 starts with a hat trick against Liverpool and 5 goals against Blackburn, Berbatov was having his best season yet. Berbatov regarded the club highly and has always been one of the great learners in the game as he said:-
“He [Sir Alex Ferguson] is one of the most successful managers in the history of the game. I write things down about the way we train and how he treats people. It is like a school. You work with the best manager and play with the best players. I try to learn. I am at the biggest club in the world. If I can learn anywhere it is here.”
Berbatov helped United clinch their 19th Premier League title amongst the fuss regarding Rooney’s contract situation. In the second half of the season, Berbatov started just 3 of the last 11 Premier League games. New signing, Javier Hernandez, was in a mesmerizing form in his first season at the club and Rooney, having solved the contract issues, had begun to find the net once again. SAF decided not to tinker with this partnership and Berbatov, unfortunately, had to pay the price. He, however, managed to win the Golden Boot with 19 goals in the Premier League but the fact that an always injured Michael Owen was selected ahead of him in the Champions League final was probably the final nail in the coffin.
Berbatov’s fourth season at the club turned out to be a nightmare. Who knew that last season’s highest goal scorer would be handed just 11 starts throughout the season. Berbatov had become United’s fourth choice striker. Danny Welbeck’s super start to the season and his understanding with Wayne Rooney didn’t help Berbatov’s case. Moreover, United were dumped out of other competitions at quite an early stage. The club basically played just one game per week which made it difficult for Berbatov to break into the final XI. Not once did the classy player speak against the club or the manager or even express his desire to leave the club. He has always acted like a true professional and just waited for things to happen his way, the kind of quality you won’t find now days.
Berbatov has now joined Fulham whose fans must be giddy with excitement. After RvP’s arrival, Berbatov was down the pecking order to a fifth choice striker at the club. There was no other option than to move onto another club where he will play week in week out. He could walk into any top club’s starting XI bar Madrid, Barcelona and may be City. Whether Fulham plays to his strengths remains to be seen but they have a wonderful striker in their team setup and Martin Jol knows very well how to extract the best out of Berbatov.