I think it is safe to assume that Alex Ferguson is a keen follower of all things football, to remain at the top for as long as he has you need to keep your finger on the footballing pulse. I wonder then if he took the time out during his summer holidays to keep up with the form of his expensive striker Dimitar Berbatov.
If Ferguson did decide to tune in for the Republic of Ireland’s draw with Bulgaria in Sofia he will not have been terribly impressed with what he saw from his enigmatic front man. After a bright opening half Berbatov drifted out of the game and was effectively shackled by the efforts of Richard Dunne and Preston’s Sean St. Ledger. His demeanour at the end of the match was reminiscent of performances put in this season for the Red Devils, the dominant Berbatov we saw at Tottenham is starting to become a distant memeory.
Where once Berbatov’s name was synonymous with grace, balance and touch, now his name is more likely to draw accusations of lethargy and disinterest. Berbatov showed some sparks in Saturday’s crucial World Cup Qualifier but in a campaign where he was pilloried for running just two kilometres during a match he owed his country at least some perspiration. To put that into perspective you might break more of a sweat jogging to your local shop and back.
Since Berbatov signed for Manchester United his record has been constantly put under the spotlight, when viewed in statistics his first season doesn’t appear too poor. The Bulgarian scored 14 goals in 42 matches for the Premiership champions and that is respectable if not spectacular. On closer inspection though the veneer of respectability soon wears thin.
Despite Ferguson constantly defending the form of his expensive summer acquistion, Ferguson’s deeds come the important part of the season betrayed a manager whose patience had finally run out. Berbatov played a peripheral role in United’s big games as they chased the Premier League and Champions League trophies, and his impact off the bench against Barcelona was negligible, I am sure some United fans could put it a bit more colourfully.
Ferguson has never been slow to move a player on who he deems is not having a sufficient impact at the club. The names Ince, Stam and Van Nistelrooy felt the Glaswegian’s elbow firmly in their back as they were shunted out the Old Trafford exit. This time however Ferguson is in something of a corner over how to remould his forward line for next season. Ferguson would be loathe to admit he spent £30 million on a flop and at this point Manchester United would probably have to take a huge loss on a player they coveted and stalked for a prolonged period of time.
Factor in the Carlos Tevez situation and Ferguson’s decisions this summer look more and more crucial to United’s success or lack thereof next season. When Berbatov signed he was supposed to be the focal point of an attack that would sweep aside all comers. Berbatov has not delivered on the form that persuaded United to fork out so handsomely for his services and one suspects the Old Trafford faithful would much prefer to hold onto their Argentine jack in the box, Carlos Tevez.
Rumours are already circulating about Berbatov’s future and his display against Ireland on Saturday hinted at a deeper malaise in the striker’s game. Ferguson has an important choice to make and he usually gets these calls right, do not be surprised though if the his sword falls on the bewildering Berbatov.