In many ways it feels like ‘The Inevitable’…
Like when something is written in fate…like old age…or illness…or even death.
The Maverick. The Genius. The One that just couldn’t fit in.
Yes Dimitar Berbatov…one of the most gifted players to ever wear a Manchester United jersey appears to be on his way out the Old Trafford door.
When the Bulgarian joined Messrs Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney all but three seasons ago it felt like we had signed ”The Missing Link’ …Personally I was extremely excited about (once again) raiding Tottenham and taking from them the most artistic striker in the league. As we know the transfer was drawn out hugely, and we all sat up late into the night to watch Sky Sports News..to witness their famous yellow info ticker pronounce that we had got our man. At a smidgen over £30 million Berbatov was, and still is our record signing. It was exciting times. We were Champions of England and Europe. The best team on the planet. It’s all those feelings that Barcelona fans have today.
Fast forward 36 months: There is no Ronaldo. There is no Tevez. Soon there may not even be a Darron Gibson. We’ve had the Rooney scandal. The champion of our hearts Ryan Giggs being ripped to shreds in the press. And yet still we have managed to remain SUCCESSFUL.
Two more Premier League titles (and being robbed by a solitary Drogba offside which would have meant five titles in five years) and the unheralded feat of reaching two more Champions League finals, unfortunately running into a Barcelona team from another dimension both times, has seen quite possibly the most aggressive form of sustained success from one United side, ending in the glorious crescendo of a Merseyside busting nineteenth title.
And during this period you would think that our record signing would be the catalyst of it all?
Berba’s first couple of seasons came and went with not much fuss. He showed cameos of genius. Destroyed opponents with a flick of the heel that would make Messi bow down. At his best, he would swank around the pitch…all moody and brilliant. It is fair to say ‘There’s only one Dimitar Berbatov’
The problem is we just never really saw enough of this.
His fanclub will be the first to point out his top scoring contribution this season…and I agree with them. Without Berba this year, we do not win our record 19th title. For the first half of the season he looked the real deal. While we moped about Rooney beggaring off to City for megabucks, we took solace…and more importantly vital points…from Berbatov’s form. His goals carried the team for a period. He earned his medal this season.
But no one can forget or ignore the end of the 2010-11 for the Bulgarian. His form slipped as an unknown Mexican became a cult hero. And the pariah Rooney decided to get his act together and come to the party. Game after game on the bench. Ending in sitting in the Wembley stands for what should have been the match of his career. It was a sorry end for a year that looked like it couldn’t go wrong.
So the question is clear: Why did it go wrong?
Fergie is the most patient of managers. When Berba would look like a big sulk in his first two seasons, the manager would point out how skillful the enigma was. How his movement (or lack of it) was wholly deliberate. That his star striker was at the club to be something different…something conventional strikers couldn’t match…
And then Javier Hernández Balcázar came along…
…and Sir Alex realised it was a conventional striker that he oh so craved. One that ran the channel. One that made lung busting runs into the box. One that would mug the John Terrys of this world..rather than play in front of them in panoramic vision. And unfortunately for Berbatov…Ferguson realised all this on the run-in to a historic title and a Champions League final.
The bell began to toll….all on its own.
I feel sorry for Berbatov in many ways. Before the success of this generation of United players from the 1990s onwards, Old Trafford was not so fondly nicknamed ‘The Strikers Graveyard’…This was because of a succession of United centre forwards failing at the club, most notably our first million pound footballer Garry Birtles. Birtles had led Nottingham Forest to the amazing double of winning the 1979 and 1980 European Cup finals, yet at United he could not break the curse of strikers..only scoring 11 goals for the club in his tenure…and going an incredible 30 games before scoring his first goal! In the last years we have been spoiled by the Andy Coles and Ruud Van Nistelrooys, who in many ways have put that strikers nightmare to rest. But for Berbatov, the curse sits squarely on his shoulders.
Expectations were always going to be against Berba. Our first £30 million player. A player who appears to be around the fringes of the game during many a match. A guy whose natural demeanor is to be poker-faced. When he arrived we were used to Ronaldo’s million stepovers. To Tevez throwing his (ugly) head at the feet of defenders. We were the perfect mix of flair and workrate with the silverware flowing..And suddenly we’ve got this bloke up top who has the strangest of body languages…a language that none of us recognised or spoke.
Looking back…it may well have been doomed from the start.
Of all the players I’ve seen come through Old Trafford, uniquely Berbatov has acquired a small, yet hugely vocal band of disciples. If I ever dared mention a poor performance of his on my United Twitter feed, I would have a barrage of abuse back…which was a notably different response to if you ever criticized any other MUFC player for a bad day at the office. These uber fans have actually not done Dimi any favours. I think in the main United fans are incredibly fair to our players. When they play well you thank them and slap them on the back. But when they play poorly we also have licence to point it out! To these few.. Berbatov could do no wrong. It was as if the player had his own standard…one not linked with the rest of the team. As far as MUFC goes its unprecedented. Ive never seen a player who had such individual hardcore support. Maybe once Cantona garnered such a fanbase. But he led United out of the snow covered oblivion into a glorious new dawn. Berba will not be remembered for such things.
Id like to have seen Dimitar Berbatov start next season as a United player. However, with his contract about to go into Bosman territory its clear that the club will sell if a buyer can be found. 47 goals in 127 games is nothing to be sniffed at. But for a player like Berba who cuts opinion with the precision of a diamond, the chips were always stacked against him to be a raging success.
Some will remember Berbatov for all the good things he did. But many will remember him for all he could have achieved…but didn’t.
An enigma from beginning to the very end.