For anybody who professes to love football, the departure of Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United pours a cocktail of conflicting emotions: regret that the Bulgarian has had to find pastures new; relief that he is again liberated to showcase his exquisite talent.
The time is right for club and player to part ways, with Sir Alex Ferguson unable to offer Berbatov regular inclusion in a side decreasingly playing to the striker’s strengths, at a time in the Bulgarian’s career where he needs time on the field.
From his big-money, late-night arrival in 2008 to his departure to Fulham this afternoon, Berbatov’s four-year stint at Old Trafford split opinion, ensconcing fans firmly either side of an increasingly heated debate between art aficionados and those who pack the galleries.
Artist, smoker, seer of football as theatre, Berbatov appealed to the purists. But, for every supporter who revelled in his refinement, another bemoaned his perceivable languor. Some struggled to crack the conundrum; baffled by the contradiction of a player whose game was one of indulgence, joy and warmth, while his demeanour sometimes suggested anything but.
But whether or not you ‘get’ him, Berbatov’s gifts are irrefutable. Vision, instinct, awareness; invaluable intangibles cloaked in finesse. Most glaring of all, however, is his control. Fire a hip-high ball at him from a cannon and he will bridle it as if his boot is drenched in superglue.
When everything falls into place, he is unplayable. On off-days, inconsolable. Two games against Blackburn juxtapose the Berbatov enigma – in April, 2010 he led the line in Wayne Rooney’s absence at Ewood Park, missing chances in a costly, knuckle-gnawing goalless draw. Seven months on his grin enveloped Old Trafford after bagging five of the Reds’ seven goals against Rovers.
The third goal in that quintet showcased how gorgeously simple Berba makes football. Having won possession near his own corner flag, he played a pair of one-twos with Patrice Evra and dismissively faded an immaculate 50-yard pass into the path of Nani. When the Portuguese carried the ball into the penalty area, he found Berbatov jogging in to calmly place a finish into the roof of the net. While overshadowed by Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against Manchester City later that season, the Bulgarian’s strike was poetry for any football fan to cherish.
Goals flowed for Berba in United’s record-breaking 19th title triumph, with further hat-tricks against Liverpool and Birmingham taking him alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy as the only United players since the days of Denis Law to muster three trebles in the same season. His early-season form earned him a share of the Premier League’s Golden Boot award, but he found himself marginalised by the unerring finishing of Chicharito at a time in the season when goalscoring’s stock was at its peak.
The Mexican’s arrival and swift integration, allied to the maturation of Danny Welbeck on loan at Sunderland and Michael Owen’s status as the bench’s definitive go-to goalscorer, meant that Berba was increasingly the odd man out in an evolving team. His style was to savour the ball. Caress it. Cradle it. Assess how best to use it before entrusting it to another. In a United side increasingly settling on up-tempo, pass-popping incision, the styles clashed. A harp in a hoedown.
Often miscast as surly, it is worth noting that Berbatov took his demotion with the utmost professionalism. He may have been United’s club record signing, but the striker handled his gradual descent down the pecking order with impeccable grace. Ever ready when called upon, the Bulgarian scored nine goals in eleven starts last season.
This summer’s recruitment of Robin van Persie and the imminent arrival of Angelo Henriquez bolsters an attacking roster already including Rooney, Welbeck, Chicharito and Kiko Macheda. Berbatov was simply too good to remain a spare part, and the only surprising aspect of his departure is that the scramble for his services took so long to materialise, with Fulham gazumping Juventus and Fiorentina on transfer deadline day.
“Art is never finished, always abandoned,” goes the saying. It was at Craven Cottage late last year when, with a flamboyant swish of his heel, Berbatov painted his last masterpiece for United. Now Fulham-bound and armed with a new canvas, he can dust off his palette and resume his artistry."
- ManUtd.com’s Steve Bartram blogs on the sad but inevitable departure of Dimitar Berbatov…
Goodbye, Berba !
Maybe it’s all that I could say.
At the first, I don’t love Berba at all.
Just know his name.
When United signed him up, I don’t feel anything. I mean, not enthusiasm or anything.
Just an ordinary feeling.
But as you know, I’m so deeply in love with United.
So did with the…
I feel the same though I love Berba since the first time I saw him playing. He’s a wizard.