The Cult of Berbatov

May 13, 2010 - Sofia, China - SOFIA, May 13, 2010 (Xinhua) -- The Manchester United striker and the captain of Bulgaria's national football team, Dimitar Berbatov pictured before his special press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 13, 2010.Dimitar Berbatov, announced Thursday he will no longer play with Bulgaria's national football team and is leaving them after 11 years.
Dimitar Berbatov is less a divisive figure amongst United fans and more a Red Herring, any time his name is rolled out by rival fans it’s along the lines “you could have had Torres or Tevez for less money”. His lack of goals for United is a statistic you can’t ignore, over his two seasons at Old Trafford he has managed 3 more goals than his first season at Tottenham, playing in a better team who therefore create more chances. At Tottenham he was prolific at United he is profligate and his wasteful ways have earned him the ire of many fans, but there are those, who number only a few who still maintain “he’s great”.

For these fans Berbatov is the beacon of Luxurious football, blessed with as I heard one fan remark “Cantona’s gifts” the Bulgarian has a sublime first touch, he is good with either foot and can beat his man. He doesn’t elicit the chest-thumping roar of approval that the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard get when they score a goal; you very rarely see Berbatov’s face contort in passion. For the Berbatov supporter’s his dispassionate nature is his appeal, silkily skilled and he know’s it, Dimitar strolls around the pitch at a snail’s pace at times not moving at all. As Ferdinand and Vidic take care of that dirty part of the game, defending, Berbatov is nowhere to be found but when the ball breaks though it’s a different story, bursting into the game Berbatov hustles and harries the opposing defenders trying to find that half yard of space. With the ball at his feet he is usually ten steps ahead of the defender and anything can happen. Capable of scoring from anywhere and prone to audacity Berbatov can light up a game with his performances. Despite his laconic image he has the pace to outstrip defenders in a race but it is not often that he shows this, conserving his energy for the goal-scoring opportunities. Berbatov is so good at scoring great goals that he often misses the easy ones so not to blot his record.

For his detractors though the target is easy. A misfit in the United squad, his lack of effort clashes with that expected of each and every United player. Often guilty of committing the cardinal sin of ‘not tracking back’ he is pilloried from the stands. Who is he to track back in these instances? His direct opponent is a Centre-Half who is going nowhere; to quote the United fan again “Berbatov is so good at football he doesn’t need to run around”. However, it is this perceived lack of effort when compared to Wayne Rooney will always be his downfall. In fact, always being compared with United’s iconic striker is his downfall. Wayne Rooney is an exceptional player, blessed with the same skills as Berbatov he adds to it with dynamic performances, popping up all over the pitch to provide support. Having added the aerial game to his repertoire he took Berbatov’s last remaining unique selling point and relegated him to sometime striker.

Berbatov thrives as a Big fish in a little pond, his connection with the fans as their goal-scoring hero he can become a totemic figure. Whilst at Tottenham his indescretions were forgiven until his transfer when fans will often turn on the target (See; Tevez and Mascherano) when he took the step to the European elite he stopped being the centre of attention and therefore lost his lustre. United fans had the promise of an elite striker, the player who can do anything with the ball, what they got however was a sometimes player, often cowed under the pressure of expectation and his transfer fee.

 Since Cantona, United have always had a Luxury player or two, those whose image clashes with the professional nature of the rest of the squad. Some become bona fide celebrities and live their lives in the public eye (Ronaldo & Beckham) and some cultivate their image on the pitch (Yorke, Berbatov and Cantona).  For a short period United had another ‘luxury’ player in Juan Sebastian Veron, when he moved to Manchester he didn’t flourish, often trying a forty yard pass when a 6 yard one was more appropriate (Michael Carrick is the polar opposite in this regard) the fans never warmed to him, this could be Berbatov’s last season to turn the tide of popular perception.

What you get in Berbatov though is hope, you know he is capable of the unbelievable and you pay your money to watch it. When it does come off it’s worth every penny, but when it doesn’t the disappointment is so much that it feels that much worse. If you are engrossed in the cult of Berbatov, you are a football lover, you enjoy watching the things you could never do, those single unifying moments of wonder that can unite football fans of both clubs in a round of applause. By the cold hard statistical nature of modern football, Berbatov has not been a success. He will not get the goals of Torres, Lampard or Rooney, he will not be good in every match and finally he will not be worth the money ‘we’ paid for him. That’s not the point, Berbatov should be ‘our’ player, the player that we defend against all criticism despite his obvious flaws, the player that when he scores gets that extra-special cheer because it’s often brilliant and really the player we wish we could be, unbelievably gifted but so, so lazy.

(An homage to the excellent “Federer as a Religious Experience”)

35 thoughts on “The Cult of Berbatov”

  1. Note to EPL Talk. There other teams in the PL besides teams in Manchester. This site has become Manchester Talk….

    1. Patrick,

      Not true. I just posted an article on Tottenham’s upcoming season and what their fans expect this term.

      If there is a team you’d like to read about, let me know and I’ll work on something for you.

  2. Rooney scored 26 goals last season yet Berbatov was still the 12th highest scorer in the league with 12 league goals. When you’ve got one striker banging them in for fun, it’s very rare that the second striker (particularly one who missed a month through injury and the one who would be subbed off to keep Rooney on) scores so many.


    Top scorer: Rooney
    2nd: Berbatov – 12 goals

    Top scorer: Ronaldo
    2nd: Rooney – 12 goals

    Top scorer: Ronaldo
    2nd: Rooney – 12 goals

    Top scorer: Ronaldo
    2nd: Rooney – 14 goals

    1. my problem with Berbatov isn’t his lack of production when he plays with Rooney, it is his inability to perform and score without him. When United played Chelsea at the end of last season with Rooney injured, Berbatov played by himself up front and was a 5 at best. Then, the following weekend, with Roo still out, United played a must win game against Blackburn, and Berbatov again was awful, and didn’t ever look like scoring. These two results cost us the title, and Berbatov has to take a lot of blame for the lack of threat in the final 3rd that always seems to be there when Rooney is on the pitch. While Rooney has filled Ronaldo shoes to some extent, Berbatov hasn’t filled Rooney’s.

  3. Wow…that’s refreshing look at a very talented player. The British media (especially Sun), has been on a mission to destroy the Bulgarian and drive him out of Manchester. Too bad he doesn’t sleep w/ prostitutes (Rooney), doesn’t fight DJs (Gerrard), hasn’t written 2 autobiographies (Ashley Cole), and hasn’t slept w/ a teammate’s girlfriend (Terry)…
    Yes, sometimes he is strolling on the pitch, but his every touch is magic. He is what the Premier League and Manchester United needs. The imagination and sheer brilliance of Berba is a joy to watch. He is yet to come big in big games for Manchester United, but w/ the exception of the Chelsea home game in the spring, Berba usually doesn’t start in those games as Sir Alex prefers the 4-5-1 w/ Rooney as a lone striker.
    I am afraid w/ Chicharito in and Macheda hitting a good form in pre-season, Berba will see less and less palying time this season…hope I am wrong. With his limitations (they are well known, no need to repeat), he is pure quality. He is Manchester United quality…

  4. “could have had torres or tevez for less.”

    dear God. don’t remind me. It’s not that Berbatov is a terrible player, because he demonstrated at Spurs that he is of a very high quality. But he does not fit the system, pure and simple. When they made this signing, I was a bit worried because it reminded me a whole lot like forlan. Great player. Poor fit. I think United should send him off to a team that suits him better. It would be the best thing for him and the club.

    what i would do to have tevez back…

    1. Matt…Agree with you totally on this one. There have been numerous established/gifted players who have joined United and yet they never quite gelled with the “United system” of playing. As skilled as Berbatov is, his laconic style frustrates the hell out of lots of United supporters. Compared to those around him, he can appear lazy and lack industry. It is a real pity Tevez was allowed to leave although financial factors were clearly at play on that one.

      I remember the promise of Forlan, Veron, Pique, Rossi, Alan Smith and as far back as Gary Birtles (currently Michael Carrick and Anderson) It just goes to show that 11 “star” players don’t necessarily make a star team and in this case I’m not referring to egos.

  5. Berbatov is of real class.The English media wants him out of United as he is better than Chelsea’s strikers.

    1. Ah now Ted. Dider Drogba is a different beast entirely. He is the prototypical modern footballer, his power and goal scoring are facets that every team on the planet would be enhanced by. Didier Drogba is up there with Torres for best Striker in the world. I’m afraid Berbatov is different, that’s why he needs a cult following.

      1. I didn’t compare him with Drogba, he is totally different to that of Drogba’s style n skills.For Example: He is lazy ,Drogba isn’t.I only compared him with Anelka and I believe he is better than Anelka.

        1. You said “he is better than Chelsea’s strikers” which includes Drogba.
          No chance.I’d agree,hes better than Anelka,but not even in same category as Drogba.

  6. Granted it was prelim, in Toronto, against Celtic, but Berbatov played the majority of the match and was wonderfully brilliant. He is a top class footballer, of a different breed than a Rooney/Drogba yes, but when it comes to what his real responsibility is (putting the ball in the goal) there are few as technically leathal as he. He sure would improve my side, and I can only wish for him to join the Villa.

    Typical ManU supporter. Rooney, Macheda, Chicharito, and Berbatov and the gaul to complain about any of them.

  7. “Whilst at Tottenham his indescretions were forgiven until is transfer when fans will often turn on the target (See; Tevez and Mascherano) when he took the step to the European elite he stopped being the centre of attention and therefore lost his lustre.”

    Best. Sentence. Ever.

    Seriously though, more articles about Tottenham would always be nice.

  8. By the way I’ve got an idea for those in charge of EPL talk. Do some more articles on Man Utd! Can never have too many. Jesus, if I wanted to visit a Man Utd blog i’d go and visit one. You haven’t mentioned much on Everton, Brimingham, Villa, West Ham, Wolves Or Wigan. Is it not cool to write about teams who aren’t successful? Or are you all closet bandwagoners?

    1. Peter, if you’re interested in writing for the site or if you have story ideas to submit, please contact me at thegaffer[at]epltalk[dot]com

      It’s not a conscious effort to only concentrate on Manchester clubs. It’s just that both sides finished North American tours so they’re fresh in our minds and there are plenty of things to write about. With the other clubs you listed, there is far less newsworthy developments happening. If you disagree, please post some suggestions.

      The Gaffer

      1. If I may add, this isn’t really a Man Yoo article. It is a piece about Dimitar Berbatov the “flop” and the role of the Luxury player. It could’ve been about Anelka or Robinho. Not many mid-table teams can carry a luxury player, Bolton used to in Jay-Jay Okocha, and you could make an argument for Diamante at West Ham

  9. Berbatov, absolutely class player. I am in the cult of Berbatov. He is Man Utd class, I am sure he will show it this season. After Cantona, he is the player I will gladly pay to watch.

  10. fergie found berbatov’s correct position. it is not centre forward. only berbatov on united has the chill-factor since ronaldo left.

  11. When people talked about Berbatov, it always involved Rooney and Tevez. I have always been curious and wondering, which 2-striker partnership is the best and most effective partnership during 2008-2009 season (when 3 of them were in the team)?

    Berbatov and Rooney? Rooney and Tevez? Or Berbatov and Tevez?

    If there is someone out there really good at statistics, I hope he/she enlightens me with this. I have the feeling that Berbatov and Tevez formed the best partnership! Remember how the team didn’t even feel the need of rushing Rooney back or didn’t even miss him while he was injured? The team did fine without Rooney! If this is true, then we know Berbatov and Tevez are not the problem. Ferguson’s favoritism on Rooney is the problem. Tevez had to be sacrificed because of similarity to Rooney. I hope to know the stats.

  12. Berbatov is pure class and I love waching him play. I’m still not ready to give up on him yet. He may not be scoring the goals like he did at Tottenham but he is setting up others and is a joy to watch. I think he is going to have a great year.

  13. How is Berbatov expected to create his own chances and then to score as well? In the Blackburn game, he put Valencia through one one with the keeper and Valencia should have scored. How many times do we see Berbatov is good positions and the ball never comes to him. I am a United fan and I say that Berbatov is too good to play with this team, especially this midfield. Now Scott the Red has given the stats for Berbatov and Rooney’ stats when Ronaldo was at United. The goals scored by Rooney is the same as Berbatov. It is time that all United fans appreciate class instead of someone running like a headless chicken.

  14. Actually, most spurs fans were disgruntled with him in the second season because of his lack of work rate in taking up good positions. Keano was seen as the main talisman and got spurs player of the year. First season at spurs he was world class, he was ‘at it’ in taking up good positions to hold the ball up and was resolute in doing so.

    Sure, he still had his relaxed style, but that ain’t the problem as some people tend to focus on. The problem is his attitude. He’s simply not been bothered most of the time since his first season at spurs (relaxed but tuned in and excellent) and its not been good for any of his teams, Bulgaria included, who he used to be utterly sublime for. Still a genius talent but end of the day I’d take Tevez every day til Sunday because he is talent and has a terrific attitude.

    Anyone who says United are better off with Berbatov is talking bollocks. Rooney and Tevez were dynamite, pure livewires and they’d cut your throat in the blink of an eye, cl and prem double they won as well.

    United don’t have near the team to win the cl now and that is a lot to do with one of Fergies rare big mistakes in swapping Berbatov for Tevez.

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