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Dimitar Berbatov: The Story of an Enigmatic Genius

Ashish Sharma
Editor's Pick
1.22K   //    29 Jul 2011, 21:34 IST

For the last 3 years, or slightly less, Dimitar Berbatov has perhaps been that one player to have shouldered the disappointment of not one but several Manchester United fans (read millions and still counting). But the disappointment which bothered him the most, and still does, is the one of himself.

The big Bulgarian’s impending move to Manchester United was followed with great curiosity across the footballing world. Sir Alex Ferguson openly admitted interest in him, breach of code they said. Tottenham were determined to milk it and sure they did when Berbatov moved to MUFC rejecting City in the process who also had their bid accepted. The fee was supposedly something around 30.5 million pounds and here I am writing this.

Berbatov signing with MUFC.

Berbatov displaying his new jersey amidst much razzmatazz

The new No.9 started off his United career with an assist against Liverpool. Mesmerizing ball control, turning around the defender and sliding a neat pass for Tevez. A sign of things to come? The match ended 2-1, and yes United lost. The first league defeat of the season and the first to Liverpool since 2002 in the league coincided with his debut. The next game could not have come at a better time for Berba.  Chelsea away and maybe time to mark his arrival. In retrospect, had his shot gone in that day the story could have been far different. Park Ji Sung tapped in the rebound from Berba’s shot which was parried by Cech. Still waiting.

 His first goal came against Aalborg in a Champions League group fixture. The jinx had been broken, more to follow? May be not. Berbatov’s first season was anything but a dream one. Nightmare is a closer guess. He struggled throughout the season, getting over-looked for crucial Champions League fixtures. The fans were close to the point of giving up, the price tag still loomed large over their heads. What an anti- climax to a bright career! The returns for the money spent were stacked heavily against Berbatov. Cries for “sell him” have not gone away ever since then. There has not been a single transfer window where he hasn’t been linked away but that was never going to happen. Forgot the script?

 The following season saw the departure of Ronaldo and Tevez. The fans had their hopes pinned on him, hoping for him to come good. Wishful thinking. But Mitko, as he is affectionately known back in his home land, was clearly succumbing to the pressure of being one of his kind. The gaze into the pitch from the bench clearly showed how strongly he felt he deserves to be there. Yet when the chances came, he fluffed them. The angry shrug of the shoulders on being denied a cleverly worked one-two clearly showed a man who was trying just too hard. Things went from bad to worse. The occasional slip in front of the goal, tricks going wrong or  misses which would put Bendtner to shame. Time was running out.

“I am a relaxed guy. I play that way and I can’t change my style. I watch games and see guys who panic on the ball – they look so nervous. I can be calm, because I sometimes know what I want to do before the ball comes to me. The boss [Alex Ferguson] tells me not to change anything – he gives me freedom to express my qualities.” 

(Berbatov describing his style of play in 2009) 

 In the season 2010-2011, Dimitar Berbatov looked better. In fact, he has never looked any better in a red shirt. Never too late they say. The fans were happy as United were being propelled towards their quest for the 19th by the most unlikely agent, the 30.5 million rated Dimitar Berbatov. Goals galore,hat-trick against bitter Merseyside rivals  followed up with a fiver against Blackburn Rovers.  The smile was back, he was teeming with confidence. No more lazy strolls, no more mellow interviews and no more delaying the fairy tale any further. This was the moment. This Berbatov was anything like we have seen before, no drooping shoulders. He never had the heart of a winner, but surely had the talent of one. Now he seemed like a man who was more intent on enjoying the game and take chances as they come.

Dimi Berbatov with the golden boot.

Berbatov- He won the golden boot but would he get the royal boot away from the club too?

The emergence of ‘Little Pea’ towards the later half of the season and his fancy for goal provided Sir Alex Ferguson with a very exciting strike partnership up front, in which sadly there was no Berbatov. The club’s leading goal scorer was overlooked for the crucial UEFA Champions League semis, the Chelsea fixture at home touted as the BPL finale and of course the Wembley final. Very few questioned the selection though, since Chicharito deserved every bit of it. But what few people noticed was that the Berbatov he displaced from the starting line up was not sulking on the bench, but ready to come on as and when required. He looked a completely different player, someone somewhere must have helped get his head in order and perhaps the heart too.  The irony of it all stated in the fact that when finally started to come into his own at Old Trafford, it was someone else who was going to barge into his opportunities ans his spotlight that he finally seemed to have been earning.

Dimitar Berbatov- The enigma, the genius

As I write, he is all geared up in pre-season. Side by side, the tabloids keep reporting stories where he is supposedly going to be used as a bait to get someone to shore up our midfield crisis. But the only constant in his story, is that you will always hear stories like them. The story is far from over though. He has had his share of criticism, even to the point of being called a traitor back home for quitting national duties. Time to win them back I guess? Or may be it’s just not in the script? May be it’s supposed to end this way, with him having fewer admirers who will stick around knowing there are not many as good as him…

But it’s never too late they say, and maybe there is one here too while we wonder if this is how the story for the ‘enigmatic genius’ was supposed to go?

Ashish Sharma
From New Delhi, based in New York following football teams from Manchester and Turin.
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