Jim White of SKY Sports News, never a big one for understatement at the best of times, was on the verge of combustion. Man United who, much to the chagrin of Tottenham Hotspur, had been chasing Dimitar Berbatov all through the Summer of 2008, had now been gazumped on transfer deadline day by neighbours, Man City. To call it a bolt out of the blue is to put it mildly. Over the previous few weeks, City had appeared to abandon their historical practice of signing the brothers/cousins of established players by trying to prise Ronaldinho away from Barcelona. Ronaldinho had reportedly laughed so hard when City tried enticing him away that it put his incisors back in place. Tottenham, who in the meantime were resigned to losing the Bulgarian, had accepted a bid of £30m from Man City for Berbatov.
Dimtar Berbatov playing for Tottenham Hotspur in April 2008
Four years ago today, United signed Dimitar Berbatov in what was probably the most dramatic transfer deadline day since the legally questionable transfer window was first introduced in the summer of 2001. The very first thing Berbatov did to endear himself to United fans was to reject the more lucrative overtures from United’s attention-seeking neighbours. Berbatov, who’d clearly set his heart on a move to United, had forced Tottenham’s hand in accepting a bid from United by flatly refusing to talk to City. Due to the international break which immediately followed the summer transfer deadline of 2008, Berbatov had to wait two weeks to make his debut at, of all places, Anfield. Within 90 seconds, he’d set up Carlos Tevez to sweep United into the lead in front of the Kop but after such a promising start, United eventually lost the game. That match is, to me, symbolic of Berbatov’s entire time at Old Trafford.
Dimitar Berbatov outwits Jamie Carragher to set up Carlos Tevez at Anfield in September 2008
Dimitar Berbatov scores his first goal for United at Aalborg in September 2008
Berbatov is probably the most polarising United player since Juan Sebastian Veron. I’ve heard plenty of rubbish talked about Veron; a lot of people, some of whom really should know better, thought he was shit. Veron would’ve thrived in United’s midfield once Sir Alex Ferguson decided that David Beckham was no longer needed at Old Trafford. That Ferguson sold him at a massive financial loss to Chelsea a mere three weeks after Beckham left remains one of the more mystifying decisions he’s ever made. As for Berbatov, it became abundantly clear in the spring of 2010 that Ferguson had lost faith in him when he started a badly injured Wayne Rooney against Bayern Munich and left Berbatov on the bench. Sandwiched between the Bayern Munich match were two games against Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers respectively which were the nadir of Berbatov’s time at Old Trafford. At the Chelsea match, he struggled to stay on his feet chasing through balls and seemed badly out of sync with the mindset of his team mates. Worse was to come at Ewood Park though. He fell over injured in the second half near the halfway line and none of his team mates would kick the ball out for him to get treatment. That sunny but grim Lancastrian afternoon saw a sizeable faction of United fans in the Darwen End openly and loudly jeer Berbatov.
Dimitar Berbatov laying injured at Ewood Park April 2010
The summer of 2010 was probably Berbatov’s best period in a United shirt. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed to have had a chat with Berbatov over that summer and it improved his form and confidence dramatically for the beginning of the 2010/2011 season. Berbatov was also helped by the injury and temporary loss of form which Rooney had throughout the summer of 2010. Having scored an excellent injury-time goal in the Community Shield against Chelsea, he then followed up by scoring against Newcastle, West Ham, Everton and a glorious hat-trick against Liverpool. That hat-trick summed it all up though. After that, he didn’t score again ’til the end of November when he then achieved a quintet of goals against Blackburn Rovers in a 7-1 victory. That season he ended up as United’s top goalscorer but couldn’t even get a place on the bench for the European Cup Final at Wembley against Barcelona. A few weeks before that match I believe that Ferguson’s patience finally snapped with Berbatov when he missed two gilt-edged chances in the first half of the FA Cup semi-final against City at Wembley. In my opinion, Berbatov was only picked for that game due to the outrageously unfair suspension imposed on Rooney that was, by sheer coincidence, initiated by former City chaiman David Bernstein.
Dimitar Berbatov puts the ball over the bar against City in the FA Cup Semi Final, Wembley April 2011
Last season, Berbatov didn’t score a league goal ’til the Boxing Day thrashing of Wigan Athletic where he nabbed a hat-trick followed by a brace against Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve. He scored his last goal for United in a routine 2-0 win against Stoke on the last day of January. He leaves Old Trafford with the goodwill of virtually everybody there. Some people think Sir Alex Ferguson has treated him badly but I think that’s not the case. Some people think he wasn’t given a chance but that is absolute garbage. Berbatov was basically preferred over a proven goalscorer like Carlos Tevez in his first season at Old Trafford. Ultimately, he’s given us some great moments over the last four years. he just hasn’t given us as many moments that a record signing should be giving us. I wish him well wherever he goes but I’m not too upset that he’s gone, more resigned to lament what he could’ve been.