September 1, 2008. Dimitar Berbatov arrived at Manchester United after a prolonged transfer saga, Sir Alex Ferguson breaking the club transfer fee record by splashing out £30 million to land the Bulgarian striker from Tottenham Hotspur.

August 31, 2012. Dimitar Berbatov parts ways with Manchester United as he heads to Fulham, having rejected the advances of Fiorentina and Juventus.

Berbatov and Manchester United’s was always an uneasy marriage, often straining the boundaries but somehow remaining loyal to the cause. But the telling blow came in the Champions League final of 2011 when Berbatov was omitted from United’s 18-man squad to face Barcelona in Rome. He admitted he felt ashamed to face his friends and his team mates after that incident, a hurtful indictment by his manager who could not be won over by the Bulgarian.

There was always a feeling of glorious frustration when it came to Berbatov, the United fans often left wondering whether they should love him for his languid style or hate him for his apparent lack of work rate.

Berbatov’s majestic ball control, the way he traps the ball, is one of the most beautiful sites in football. Those who have played the game will know how difficult the skill of controlling a football is, let alone a raking 50-yard diagonal from the boot of Paul Scholes. The apparent ease with which he kills the ball dead is characteristic of a man who plays the game at his own pace, slowing the play down to suit his own tempo while bringing others into play.

Ironically, it was precisely that quality which prompted his fall from grace at Old Trafford. One moment he was resplendent in the glory of a sublime hat-trick at Old Trafford against United’s bitter rivals Liverpool, the next he wasn’t even on the bench for their most imporant game of the season.

One of his most exquisite (and surprisingly under-rated) goals was at Goodison Park against Everton. Unite were 2-1 up in the second half but had their backs to the wall as the hosts bombed forward for an equaliser. Everton won a corner and pushed numbers up hoping to crowd out United in the penalty area. Berbatov, typically, was strolling around on the half-way line being casually marked by Sylvan Distin. Vidic won the first header, Neville back heeled the ball to Scholes who pinged a quite magnificent 60-yard diagonal pass to Berbatov who had made a run on the blind side of Distin on the right wing. Berbatov killed the ball dead with the touch of an angel which took him past the onrushing Distin with consummate ease and quite delightfully, with the outside of his right boot, he glided the ball past Tim Howard from 25 yards out into the left-hand bottom corner of the Everton net.

It was one of the most wonderfully crafted goals I have seen, the purity of the touch and finish laid bare on the glorious turf of Goodison Park. United went on to squander that lead to draw 3-3, but post-match, that moment of genius left a feeling of triumph among the onlookers.

Berbatov has endured a lot of criticism for his style of play and lack of work ethic, but this is no time to look back on his United career and label him a failure. No, this is the time to appreciate a player who brought back the innocence of the beautiful game in all it’s resplendent glory. Someone who, with the non-chalant grace and elegance of a ballet dancer, glided around Old Trafford while making supporters fall in love. It is impossible to put into words the pure unadulterated joy of having watched Berbatov play in a United shirt for the last 4 seasons. The end may be heart-breaking, but the journey has been breath-taking.

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5 thoughts on “Berbatov – The Heart-Breaking Genius

  1. Hey there pdar22,

    Decent post about a great United player.

    As a United fan, I had mixed feelings of Berba leaving. He’s a fantastic asset to have in your squad and is epitomised by his ability to score 20 goals in the 2010-2011 season where he was also beginning to find himself out of the frame.

    As the transfer window came closer and closer to closing though, I was more eager for him to actually leave though than stay. Firstly, he’s a class act player as you have discussed – at the age of 31 he should be still looking to play 25+ games per season. Additionally, United are entitled to a fee, in this case it was around 5 million. I actually would have preferred him to leave for free this summer rather than wasting his talent for a season on the bench at United, though.

    His parting shot with at Fergie wasn’t cool though, bit disappointed about that because I genuinely wanted the guy to do well at Fulham – but now it’s a bit “meh”. I suppose he has his right to express his feelings though and he may well have a point.

    Good post, I will follow you and feel free to check my blog out too.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, always appreciate it.

      I agree with your point about having mixed feelings for Berba, it felt painful to watch him waste away on the bench every week. Felt like he was a broken man at one point last season. What surprised me is that clubs were willing to pay £14 million for someone like Steven Fletcher but no one really showed a concrete interest in Berba till deadline day (especially when it was a known fact that he was available for just £5 million). Baffling.

      About the parting shot, I guess I can see where he’s coming from. Imagine the horror of being left out of the Champions League squad for Michael Owen. That’s probably his lowest point in his career. He did have nothing but good words for the club though so he’s still in my good books! I hope he does well at Fulham though having sold both Dempsey and Dembele it’s going to be a long hard season for them under Jol.

      Just saw your blog, I like the depth of your articles. Would love it if you’d write about the two other teams you follow (Torquay and The Daggers). I always like to read about teams/stuff that people don’t usually write about. Gives you a side of football you wouldn’t normally find anywhere else.

  2. Decent points again mate,

    Dagenham and Torquay are well within my plan, you may have seen my blog is relatively new – but they are still certainly within my plans.

    It’s also a busy time for Premier League/Champions league etc, so based on that it’s likely there’s more time for the others teams coming up 🙂

    1. Quite true. I’m working on a piece on Everton at the moment, but work keeps getting in the way!

      Are you on Twitter? Serious lack of proper discussions on there these days, getting a bit tired of it.

      Anyway, hope you can keep posting regularly. Will keep an eye out for your posts.

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