Dimitar Berbatov’s gratuitous sidelining at Manchester United could well go down as one of the few unexplainable schemes of Sir Alex. Moreover, the queer decision came following the Bulgarian’s most prolific season – he had scored 20 goals in the Premier League to claim the Golden Boot jointly with Carlos Tevez.
Berbatov’s exclusion was attributed to his languid style of play. Paul Scholes had called it quits and Tom Cleverley made his way back to Old Trafford after having impressed at Wigan. And the rather blessed emergence of Javier Hernandez meant there was more emphasis on quick forward play than ever before. Sir Alex was rather shrewd to clip Berbatov’s progress in order to nurture the new found flamboyance in Welbeck, Cleverley and Hernandez.
It is no secret that Berbatov is an economic runner, he can be glaringly slow in the final third, but he counterbalances it perfectly with a sublime first touch and an immaculate sense of positioning. In the wake of Rooney’s injury ridden season of 2010-11, Berbatov came to the fore and spearheaded a lack-lustre United attack. Even more splendid was his penchant for scoring late crucial goals as he singlehandedly propelled United to a dramatic win over Liverpool – his hat trick came with a thunderous overhead kick in front of Stretford End. as a nervy 3-2 derby victory was sealed. In fact, if it weren’t enough, he revelled to score late winners against Blackpool and Bolton. Earlier in the season, he netted five past a hapless Blackburn defence.
However, it is quite baffling that Sir Alex has decided to overlook the Bulgarian’s exploits. For a man with an impregnable eye for talent, he seems to have erred badly. He preferred the gruesome physicality of Danny Welbeck over Berbatov’s finesse to such an extent that Berba was limited to a feeble tally of just 12 appearances. The fact that he still notched up 7 goals tells the tale of a relentless, ever pursuing striker and an unsatisfied manager. His other starts came in United’s disappointing League Cup campaign which cannot fulfill the ambitions of a striker like Berbatov. He was reduced to a makeshift striker – the kind that is employed to ease the cream off its fatigue. However, Sir Alex maintains that Berbatov was treated with all due honour.
Sir Alex definitely knew Berbatov wasn’t the conventional centre forward when he signed him from Tottenham. He was not fast, he was not agile enough to win possession back and he wasn’t quite physical. But, he is exceptionally good in the air, can unleash powerful volleys and is very adept at scoring from tight angles. He had exhibited all these qualities at White Hart Lane as he amassed a staggering 23 goals in his debut season (2006-07). He was an extraordinary finisher – he still is.
Having arrived at a whooping 30 million, he gradually began to etch his importance. The price tag promised longevity and celebration. But Berba’s United affair now seems to have hurtled to a pre mature end. The want away striker is reportedly being chased by Spanish side Malaga.
Given the arrival of Shinji Kagawa, United seem set to play an attack minded 4-5-1 formation. And if this materializes, Berbatov will only find himself in the sidelines more often than not.
It is now time for Berbatov to move on from a diverse yet fulfilling career at United. While the departure of the Bulgarian will deprive us of some severe magic, it will only forecast well for the 31 year old talisman.