Dimitar Berbatov: Man United's (Not So) New Talisman
Amazing that just four matches deep into the new Premier League season “Berbaflop” has seemingly replaced the all-action Wayne Rooney as Manchester United’s favored striker. On Saturday Sir Alex Ferguson was taking flak for omitting Rooney from his teamsheet and at some cost, United relinquishing a 3-1 lead at Goodison Park to allow Everton to claim a miraculous point. The aftermath of United’s midweek clash with Rangers in the Champions League had many questioning the exclusion of the Bulgarian from Fergie’s starting 11.
Rooney’s downfall has, in part, been due to his poor and confidence-sapping performance at the World Cup which was in turn caused by a niggling ankle injury from United’s last campaign. The abundant speculation on his personal life has increased his burden, so much so that Ferguson uncharacteristically wavered and questioned his stalwart’s fortitude. His performance on Tuesday was lacking the characteristic aggression and the clinical finishing that would have seen the England striker tuck away his late header or bury one of numerous miscontrolled balls in and around the Rangers box.
Dimitar Berbatov’s rise is a less dramatic tale. He continues to display the talent that persuaded United to splash £30 million on him in the first place. Perhaps he has learned to no longer fear the weight of expectation. Maybe it is the excellent service that a rejuvenated Paul Scholes has provided of late which has sparked him into life, conjuring 3 goals in his four league matches thus far. Or possibly it is because Berbatov has run, nay, sprinted that little bit harder and appeared slightly more determined that his professional reputation has been restored.
The Bulgarian striker is a much more elaborate and naturally talented player than his English counterpart. Sadly, his unwillingness to work as hard as the indefatigable Rooney just made it more infuriating to watch such a class act waste his abilities. But now his flicks, his acrobatics, and his swagger are effective. In the home tie against West Ham in particular, Berbatov was pitch-perfect. In addition to his fabulous goal, Berbatov linked up extremely well with fellow goal scorer Nani, executing a brilliant back-heeled flick in the opening minutes that led to the Portuguese player crashing his shot of the crossbar. Against Everton he was more profligate but created several identical openings and shaved the outside of Tim Howard’s far post before notching his requisite goal.
But if United want to recover their title or advance in Europe, they will need both Rooney and Berbatov. Berbatov will never, no matter how motivated he may become, charge 60 yards to win back the ball. Nor is the Bulgarian a match-winner like his teammate, too often “making up the numbers” when the match has already been put to bed. But Rooney is unable to find the intelligent through balls and impudent dinks that the former Tottenham can. In the past it has been impossible to get these two expensive players, between them costing more than many professional squads, to work in tandem. When they both take to the field against Liverpool on Sunday and it can be reasonably assured they will, the United boss of 25 years may find himself with his best strike pairing at Old Trafford.