I have fought Dimitar Berbatov‘s corner since he joined Manchester United and came under criticism from our own fans as much as elsewhere. I saw enough in him to stick my neck out and acknowledge that whilst he wasn’t scoring as much as we’d hoped, he was class and we needed to give him time. If you don’t get Berbatov, you don’t get football became somewhat of a catchphrase, feeling the need to repeatedly defend the guy. But his penalty miss in the FA Cup semi-final was the final nail in the coffin for some fans.
Whilst generally our fans have begun to warm him, impressed with his brilliant touch, ability to keep the ball, and knack of picking out perfect passes, there is still a feeling that he is ‘lazy’. Sir Alex Ferguson has refuted this claim in the past and Berbatov has set out to prove those who claim that wrong.
So, has Berbatov lived up to his price tag? He doesn’t think so. “Man, who can live up to that sort of money?” he said. “Nobody can. If I think about that money it is crazy to me. I can’t believe it. But in my first year I was disappointed in myself. I need to say that. My nerves were too much and that is my responsibility. I think I wanted so much to prove myself to these supporters. You must remember, they are used to Best, Charlton, Cantona. I am just Dimitar. It was a big pressure for me and maybe I failed myself. I got a number of assists, but I must score more goals. I am more pleased with my overall game in this second season already. I feel that I have integrated myself better into the team. I am much stronger, much fitter. I still wish I could score more. I don’t know what I am doing wrong sometimes. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s me…who knows? At nights I have kept myself awake thinking ‘you could have done this instead’.”
Berbatov appears to be a very reflective player and a big thinker, so has dwelling so much on his first year meant the enjoyment has been taken out of his football?
“What? How can you even ask that man?” he asked. “I am a footballer playing for the best club in the world. I am playing with legends like Scholes, Giggs and Rooney. Being coached by a man like Sir Alex Ferguson. How can I not be happy?”
Berbatov is aware that sections of the fans still don’t like him but he is quite happy to take that criticism on board.
“Then that is my fault, not theirs,” he said. “It is me who must change. Manchester United is their club. They have treated me perfectly since I came.”
Football is very much about statistics these days but Berbatov would like to see his statistics put him on top for work rate.
“I don’t run for no reason,” he added. “I am always alert and ready. I will be honest. This criticism did affect me, but not in a negative way. I looked at our ProZone stats and saw that I was ninth in distance covered. I am kind of a nerd. I looked at them too much, maybe. By the end of the season I was 4th. Maybe this season I will be 1st!”
More and more reasons to love him. I honestly don’t get why people don’t like the guy. Carlos Tevez ran around like a blue-arsed fly last season but scored just one goal for every 371 minutes he was on the pitch. But he was a trier, just like Alan Smith, so he was adored. Berbatov was far more effective in front of goal, in terms of both scoring and assisting goals, but because he didn’t boot the ball five yards in front of him and chase after it every time it came to him, so able was he to bring the ball down with his first touch, our fans didn’t have time for him.
(08/09) 1856 minutes, 5 goals, 3 assists.
Strike rate – 1 goal per 371 minutes.
Behind a goal every 232 minutes.
(08/09) 2542 minutes, 9 goals, 10 assists.
Strike rate – 1 goal per 282 minutes.
Behind a goal every 134 minutes.
The people who were drowning out Ferguson’s end of season speech with ‘Fergie, sign him up!’ need to have a think about what kind of player we want at Manchester United. I’d argue that a player that wouldn’t even think twice about joining City for that money over playing for us is the kind we want at our club. The kind of player who sees us as the biggest and best in the world and sees no reason why he would ever want to leave. A player who truly appreciates getting to work alongside the great players and manager we have. A player who will take criticism on board and find fault in himself, rather than responding to fan criticism with claims that he wants to leave. A player who wants to improve and do whatever he can to help the team do well and keep the fans happy.
I’m desperate for him to do so well this season that people have no choice but to acknowledge his contribution. But like Wednesday proved, you don’t need to be banging the goals in to be the best and most effective player on the park. Tevez didn’t contribute much with goals last season but his contribution was his willingness to run his balls off. Berbatov contributed more goals last season, but not enough, but his contribution was all his assists and lovely play around the final third which lead to goals.
The fella is absolute quality and I’m more than happy to pay to watch him play.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. Everyone who buys a copy enters a competition to win the new home shirt. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.