Connect with us


United’s Berba Necessity


The year is 1996. The All New Manchester United juggernaut has just driven relentlessly to the Premier League and FA Cup double, sneering past the wheezing, spluttering, broken down Alfa Romeo of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle on its way. The chance arises, that summer, to buy a young starlet from France, Zinedine Zidane. While there is no doubting his talent, where does he play? Who would miss out to accomodate the playmaker? Why overhaul the successful machine in the infancy of its powers? This major quandry means that United and Sir Alex Ferguson (or just Alex, as he was in those innocent days) turn down the chance to purchase him, leaving Juventus free to fill their boots.

Sound thinking, as it turns out, as United’s juggernaut goes on to win 4 more league titles, an FA Cup and a Champions League.

Eleven years later then, after winning a league and Champions League double with a young team and most importantly a young forward line, Ferguson purchases Dimitar Berbatov for £32.5m. In the end he took a gamble similar to that which derailed his previous juggernaut (the Veron signing), and gave himself the headache he chose to avoid – for a man who became one of the greatest players of the modern era – just over a decade earlier. Where does he play? Who misses out? Why overhaul the successful machine in the infancy of its powers?

Ferguson answered some of these questions more than adequately, he retained the league title and almost the Champions League (adding the Carling Cup too), but he didn’t improve the side, or its attacking output, at all. In a lot of ways he diminished its power: Cristiano Ronaldo, after 42 goals the previous season, scored 26 this time in a more disciplined role (whether it be in the centre or on either flank, he was more inclined to stay there, and less inclined to roam); Carlos Tevez scored just 5 goals in the league; and United just 68 in 38 games: The worst output for a United Champion outfit since 1993. If anything, instead of adding more attacking variation and guile, Berbatov helped to turn United into more of a passing machine, rather than the 4-6-0-interchanging-all-over-the-place fluid organism of the previous year. “1-0 to United” became as much of a popular scoreline as “1-0 to the Arsenal” had in the George Graham era. Fergie’s gamble hadn’t failed, but neither had it succeeded.

Yet that is only modern history, for now we must look to the future: Tevez has switched his red pyjamas for blue ones, CR7 has become CR9, and United are looking at an attacking overhaul that perhaps may not have occured if Berbatov hadn’t have moved to Old Trafford (certainly Tevez would not have left): Their wide areas post Ronaldo are almost scarily bare – Giggs doesn’t play there anymore; Fergie will be struck down with the plague if Rooney plays there again; Valencia is a Big Time Rookie (a shocker against Arsenal hasn’t helped); Nani is infuriatingly inconsistent and perhaps too young to shoulder too much responsibility (he may well have to in any case); Tosic and Obertan are surely Carling Cup merchants at best at the moment – i.e. United’s options out wide are not too far away from a shower. So why, in the first few games, has Ferguson persisted with two wingers? Does playing two wingers get the best out of Rooney, even if he is in His Holy And Righteous Place in the centre?

Surely now, after a numerically small but consequentially massive changing of the guard, it is time to let Berbatov show his worth, and repay the considerable faith shown in his abilities.

On Saturday, Berbatov didn’t start, with Valencia and Nani both playing to the sides of Rooney, and United were absolutely awful for large parts of the first 70 minutes. Valencia was poor, Nani was not much better, Rooney was chasing the lost causes he was meant to have stopped chasing, and United created almost nothing. Berbatov came on, with United very fortunately 2-1 up – they had created no clear chances other than the penalty (rather like the Burnley game) – and suddenly United had a spark, they became able to keep the ball, they became able to create chances. Pulling out to unorthodox areas – with just one winger space is not cramped on both flanks if either Berbatov or Rooney choose to roam wide – he glided out wide and created a simple chance for Nani, after missing one himself (absolutely hilariously) after a 50 yard run that left him looking absolutely knackered. While it is possible that United could have been running on the euphoria of the dramatic turnabout, there is no doubt that Berbatov gave United something that they didn’t have for the rest of the game. When he came on at Burnley, with United 1-0 down, the momentum started to build, and United seemed able to create chances on a regular basis. In his two starts, United have won 1-0 and 5-0, and created chance after chance. When he hasn’t started, they’ve looked like a wishy washy nonesense in attack.

Whilst there is no doubt that United have other pressing issues – The centre of midfield looks quite scarily open, with Darren Fletcher bearing a heavy load on his shoulders while Carrick, Anderson and Giggs look almost loathe at times to try and tackle. If Hargreaves doesn’t come back soon, United are simply going to have to fill the centre of midfield with three bodies (at least against the big teams) to compensate somewhat for the lack of bite in United’s engine room – there is surely no doubt for one thing – For United to create chances, Dimitar Berbatov must play.

200+ Channels With Sports & News
  • Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
  • Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
  • Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
  • Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
  • Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
  • Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
  • Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
  • Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
  • Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
  • Price: $4.99/mo
  • Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
  • Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
  • Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
  • Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
  • Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more


  1. Thomas

    September 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    I still believe Fergy knew Ronaldo was on his way out, and he knew he had one more season with him.

    I thin the team is going to be structured around Rooney and Berba now…obviously.

    Carrick looks a bit shell shocked and the space other United players were afforded due to CR7 is obvious.

    Fletcher should have 2-3 goals this season, but he’s been terrible in front of goal. But I still think he’s contributing very solidly.

    I think United will be dangerous this year. But they wont win the title. One thing that seems to be gone a bit is the swagger. Last year, they knew Ronaldo would bail them out, they didn’t seem to panick as much. This year, they look like they have lost a bit of that confidence….Also, their defense needs to get healthy.

  2. Drew

    August 31, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    I think he is a good player, just not worth £32.5m. Then again, I don’t think many of the players today are worth what is being paid for them.

  3. ish

    August 31, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    in the wigan game, berba was a machine on the pitch. His touches and flicks were amazing. He has the best first touch in the world, by having such amazing first touch and vision he is able to open up defenses. His strength and speed allows him to drag defenders away from rooney.

    Berbatov is a great targetman, targetmen dont always have to be the scorers, they need to be able to handle anything that comes to them and to set up goals with it. Thats why berba’s assist rate is so high. He is played as the central man to set up the midfielders and rooney. Perhaps rooney would operate best as the second striker/roaming attacking midfielder. Something akin to gerrard or anelka this season. That then allows fletcher and carrick to operate a bit deeper and come in when required. Carrick has excellent passing and fletcher is probably one of the better ball winners in the EPL now. The wingers can spread the defense and open up the play centrally. Honestly the tactic is essentially a 4231 what england play but more effective because united have better wide players.
    Berbatov is most important to this tactic though, if he gets injured then i doubt owen could fill his boots. Owen did best at Newcastle when viduka was fit.

  4. coachie ballgames

    August 31, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    you make a persuasive case. I just don’t have that much faith in berba’s spirit. you’re definitely right about one thing, United’s midfield is absolutely in shambles right now.

  5. SirKev

    August 31, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    As a United fan, I still believe in Berba and his ability to change a game. Most of the problem just stems from perception. He is one of those players who seems to glide around the field so people think he’s lazy or loafing when in fact he’s just moving to open areas. Compound that style with the complete opposite (Tevez) and the British notion of “endeavor” and you have a bad mixture. If he is allowed to just roam the front 1/3 and let Rooney run around he will match his assist total and increase his goal totals from last year. I am less worried about Berba more concerned about the lack of steel in the midfield and the disappearance of Anderson.

    • wllmhll

      August 31, 2009 at 9:58 pm

      i have to agree, fletcher might be able run riot around the pitch stopping oppositions playing their game but there’s not enough creativity in midfield without anderson there.

    • Ford Prefect

      September 1, 2009 at 2:58 am

      Couldn’t agree more–Have never understood the fixation on guys that run madly around the pitch, and calling it “fantastic work rate” a’la Tevez–What good does it do to charge around if nothing comes of it?–Completely agree that Berba is misunderstood b/c he moves effortlessly on the pitch, sliding into open space, etc.–He has incredible skill on the ball, and would be a world class distributor if SAF would play him in that role

      • LI Matt

        September 1, 2009 at 5:09 am

        Have never understood the fixation on guys that run madly around the pitch, and calling it “fantastic work rate” a’la Tevez–What good does it do to charge around if nothing comes of it?

        That’s the English for you. This game was born during the Industrial Revolution, and to this day they think of playing the game as a factory job. “He’s a hard worker” is the ultimate compliment.

        And then they wonder why their national team can’t win anything.

        • Gaz

          September 1, 2009 at 8:28 am

          Maybe you’re right.

          I’ll take a hard working player for the whole game over a miracle-once-a-game player any day.

  6. Sam Hiser

    August 31, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    A scything assessment. I will be watching.

    Carving out the striker role for Rooney will be telling. He must not try too hard or over-compensate; and Berba will play a large part in making Wayne’s 40 goals possible, either this year or next.

    Otherwise, look for Utd to exit the Big Four in utter confusion & blame-mongering.

  7. NewtonHeath

    August 31, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Not saying berba didn’t create chances bc he did. But, a lot of that was due to united’s euphoria to be back in the match & the fact that arsenal were getting tired & chasing as it became an up and down game. Fergie still needs time to sort out his true formation and new playing style with the free roaming players either gone or shifted to their true positions. Hopefully he figures something out soon. Think he had a defensive lineup out bc arsenal were flying games prior while he knew utd weren’t at their best


  8. Richard

    August 31, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Second time, long time. Oh boy, is this a United slagging off site? Rooney diving, Berba mistake, Fergie out-witted?!? I’m not saying kiss United’s ass ala Nick Webster but show a little balance. Thanks for your time, I’ll hang up and listen.


    • The Gaffer

      August 31, 2009 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Richard, EPL Talk has no agenda, so you’ll see a combo of articles on this site — some praising Man United, others criticizing them, and so on and so forth for all Premier League teams. We’ve been called out by Liverpool fans for being too harsh on the team, and we’ve been criticized for having too many pro-Liverpool articles.

      Anyway, the bottom line is that you’ll read plenty of different opinions here. Some you may disagree with. Others you may nod your head in approval at.

      The Gaffer

      • Richard

        August 31, 2009 at 9:10 pm

        Understood. I know that it’s hard to please everyone. You’ve got me hooked though. You’re in my favourites bar.


  9. Tyson

    August 31, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Berbatov is an incredible player the problem is most people only understand goals.

    If Berbatov was to provide more assists this season than anybody else most people wouldn’t acknowledge it as an accomplishment but on the other hand anybody that scores a lot of goals is hailed as a legend right away.

    Creating opportunities in football is of PARAMOUNT importance. If you can get a player that has the right touch to create something from nothing you can create goal scoring opportunities out of the thin air.

    On the other hand a bone head that only knows how to kick the ball into the back of the net may get more goals but he creates less opportunities for goals.

    Football isn’t about individual accolades football is about team play and a player that can set up his team mates from awkward positions and create opportunities out of nothing is a player that is truly priceless.

    Honestly the fact that people even question Berbatov and what he is giving to the team really shows most people watching the sport don’t have a clue.

    Being able to create opportunities out of thin air and having that kind of skill with the ball is nothing short of remarkable. The man truly is capable of doing things few others are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in General

Translate »