I have made no secret of my admiration for Dimitar Berbatov in his three seasons at the club. He’s a classy player who is a joy to watch on the ball. After spending the first two seasons not scoring as many goals as a £30m striker should, he was awarded with the Premier League golden boot this season and, according to Opta, scored more winning goals than any player in the league.
Whilst Wayne Rooney, the player who carried us the season before, was handing in a transfer request and not scoring, Berbatov was the player pushing us on, along with Nani. At the end of January, Berbatov had scored more hattricks for United than Rooney had goals. Without his contribution, we would not have lifted than 19th title last weekend.
Over the last few months of the season, Berba lost his place in the starting line-up to Chicharito. Rooney turned his season around and our new Mexican striker scored too regularly to leave out. Still, come the end of the season, after lifting the trophy, the Bulgarian spoke exactly like you would like a United player to.
“I will go nowhere,” he said. “Now I am part of United’s 19th title and I want to be part of the 20th, that’s my plan. I am the happiest man in the team because I’m a champion and top goalscorer in the league. To win 19 titles is a fantastic achievement.”
Ruud van Nistelrooy and Carlos Tevez wouldn’t sit on our bench, but here we have a player, the top scorer in the league no less, who claims he is the happiest man in the team, despite losing his place in the first XI, because United have won the league and he has contributed to that.
Ahead of last night’s Champions League final, we all knew that if Ferguson was going to play two strikers from the start, Berbatov wasn’t going to be one of them. He would start on the bench and the question was whether Michael Owen would join him or not. There won’t have been any United fans who had even considered that Berba would not make the bench.
I can’t imagine his shock and devastation upon learning that, if United were to win the European Cup, he would not be picking up a medal. He has played almost three times as many games as Owen this season, massively contributing to our 19th title, yet the manager showed no appreciation of that last night. My loyalty will always be with the manager over any player, including Giggs, Scholes or anyone else. However, I can’t ignore how cruel Ferguson was last night and how disrespectful he was towards a player who helped him knock Liverpool off their perch.
Some fans have criticised Berbatov for not joining the likes of John O’Shea in the stands to watch the game. I partially agree with this. You like to see the players putting on a United front and supporting each other, regardless of what has happened to them. However, I can’t entirely agree with that stance in this situation. We can’t possibly imagine how Berba felt when the manager told him he wouldn’t be on the bench and with next to no time to adjust to this shock, it’s not a massive surprise he didn’t come out of the dressing room.
“Some players even cry now in the dressing room – Bryan Robson never used to cry,” Ferguson said earlier this season. Was Berbatov sat in the dressing room crying, even just initially? I wouldn’t bet again it. This was probably his last opportunity to play in European Cup final and his manager didn’t even fancy him enough to put him on the bench.
After the game, the manager confessed that it caused him “heartache” to leave Berba out but insisted the player hadn’t stormed off, but was in the dressing room.
“For Berbatov it was a difficult decision,” said Ferguson. “Picking my team I found easy, but picking my subs I found very difficult. I tended to overload the midfield positions because I thought that was the position that was most important. I gambled with just one defender to allow me to get as many options in midfield and wide positions. It was a choice between Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov and if you are looking for someone to nick a goal in the last few minutes you want Owen’s experience.”
Now, had Owen been brought on for the final ten minutes, with United 3-1 down and in desperate need of a goal, I still wouldn’t agree with the manager’s decision, but would have to respect it. The fact that Owen didn’t get brought on, despite United only making two substitutions, beggars belief. What was the point? Why cause our top scorer so much hurt and disappointment for the sake of Owen being an unused sub?
Berba did not return with the team to Manchester today, so we’ll learn more about his future tomorrow when the players parade the league trophy. You imagine that if he hasn’t made his own way back up to Manchester by then, there’s a very strong possibility he is off. Given that he is 30 and in the last year of his contract, we wouldn’t be able recoup a great deal on the £30m we spent on him, even as the league’s top scorer, but now a club could get him for next to nothing.
I’d love for him to stay at the club because he’s an incredibly talented player and he has a fantastic attitude. He had the opportunity to double his money at City, but he didn’t even meet with them, knowing that a meeting alone would put pressure on United to offer him more money. He wants to play for this football club, he wants to play his part in our success, and when the game is inundated with mercenaries, it’s refreshing to see someone whose sole motivation isn’t money.
However, I wouldn’t begrudge him wanting to leave now. The manager has let him know exactly how little he values him, so what choice does he have? Can he really play for a club where he doesn’t even get in the squad for a final when he’s the club and league’s top scorer?
With money tight and more pressing replacements needed, it’s probably reasonable to assume that if Berbatov leaves, Ferguson will use Danny Welbeck as his replacement. Is that the kind of move other top clubs around Europe would make?
Desperately disappointed for Berbatov but I’m more concerned about the consequences this may have for the club. Rooney and Chicharito have been more or less injury free this season, luckily, but we have no guarantees of that next season, and then what?
This is an incredibly and confusing frustrating situation. I can’t help but think Berba has to leave now, as much it pains me to say it. But, as always, in the manager we trust.