Dimitar Berbatov: Money Well Spent or a Nail That's Bent?

David JacobsCorrespondent IApril 20, 2010

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United reflects on a missed opportunity during the Barclays Premier League Match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on April 11, 2010 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Dimitar Berbatov—a wasted talent, or a waste OF talent?

I have to say he really is an enigma. This placid Bulgarian started his EPL career at Spurs as shiny as an imported German Porsche, but specifically from Leverkusen and for 10x the price.

At Tottenham Hotspur, he inspired the entire team with excellent skill and coolly taken goals, which earned him the nickname of "The Iceman."

His famous partnership with fellow Spurs spearhead Robbie Keane was one to be both admired and feared by many a defence. It was once the best strikeforce in the League (both Berbatov and Keane received the same award for "Premier League Player of the Month").

The two forwards had this monozygotic approach to their game—telepathic vision combined with effective use of teammate passes fed to them—which was rewarded with many goals between them.

His efforts at Spurs were rewarded in 2008 with his first trophy in English football—the League Cup...or "The Milk Cup," or "The Littlewoods Cup," or "The Rumbelows Cup," or "The Coca-Cola Cup," or "The Worthington Cup," or "The Carling Cup" for any corporate people reading this who just HAVE to tarnish the name of a traditional longstanding football trophy by selling us something that 90 percent of people won't actually buy every time it's mentioned!

Rant over—I shall now continue.

But then, Sir Al came knocking at the Spurs chairman's door (on the knuckle imprint from previous meetings) and swooped Berbatov up on the last day of the transfer window for a very well thought-out price (well...from the Chairman's perspective anyway!).


Now, the real debate: Is there a future for Berbatov at United? If not, what has gone wrong? Should he return to/have stayed at Spurs?

Earlier today, a United fan asked me, "What was Berbatov like at Spurs?" Well, it should have been clear what he was like because Fergie wanted him. The Scottish warhorse always has an eye for great players, hence why he looks towards Spurs ;) A bit cheeky there, I know.

Berbatov was, at the time, too good to be true, especially for a less than perfect Tottenham Hotspur team. He was brilliant and fit in with Spurs better than he ever would at United.

Still, Spurs were a mere stepping stone towards him playing on a "better" Premier League team and in the Champions League—the clincher for any player bombarded with offers from a range of clubs. The Bulgarian striker's style was exactly what Spurs could produce regularly, hence coming close to the Champions League a few seasons ago.

Once Berbatov had reached his peak, Ferguson and his chequebook decided to make another young boy's dream come true by transferring him to the Red Devils, the club Berbatov had always wanted to play for.

On a transfer deadline day in summer 2008, after a lot of talking, a large amount of coffee, and some good old-fashioned Jewish business from Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, Berbatov had signed to United for a record-breaking (and bank-breaking) £30.75 million. To sweeten the deal a bit more, Fergie threw in a year's complementary use of Fraizer Campbell.

Impressively enough, even though Berbatov based himself on the Dutch AC Milan legend Marco van Basten, United fans were envisaging him as the second coming of Eric Cantona, a claim which Berbatov himself modestly rebuked—luckily.

Spurs were ideal for Berbatov's relaxed demeanour on the pitch—even if it seemed TOO relaxed...to the point where at times, he stood still. The difference between Spurs' and United's tactics of choice is that Tottenham made sure that a 4-4-2 formation always got put together, which meant more passing players were available to feed him chances, which he took and converted with style.

At United, he might have dropped in form because individual players there tend to keep the ball, enabling other teammates to quickly push forward. Wing play—using the talents of Patrice Evra, Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo (at the time), and Antonio Valencia—is also a preferred tactic, but Berbatov isn't naturally a "heading" player, but rather a "kicking" player. Give him the ball and he will score...on a good day.

Berbatov's influence at United has become a lot like long hair without straighteners—frizzy and difficult to harness.

His 12 goals in a single season ('09-10) have caused the management and some fans to lose patience with him. Wayne Rooney's been hampered by injury in recent weeks, and Berbatov has been all that they could rely on until the next transfer window.

Sadly, he hasn't delivered the service that people saw in earlier seasons, when he would've had a partner like Keane or Rooney up front with him. It appears as if playing football with him HAS to be reciprocal between him and another striker with the same qualities (e.g. Keane), which is how Spurs got the best out of him. Sticking him up front on his own in a 4-5-1 hasn't worked.

The dream he had of being a more successful individual player in the Champions League for the defending champions of English football was kind of like placing a cat behind a clear glass door with a dog on the other side running at it—looks nice and easy, but you get hit in the face by your own personal endeavours.


Would I have him back at Spurs?

Opinions on Dimitar Berbatov have been split down the middle in both the Manchester United fanbase and the Tottenham Hotspur fanbase. I would welcome him back, but he'd definitely be under the radar for performances and toys-out-the-pram episodes of wanting major titles instantly, which is how Berbatov got what he wanted in the end.

I'm just wondering if Berbatov has seen the error of his ways and that he can't always have it all. With the return of Keane from Celtic in the summer, it could reignite what was once a great partnership.

HOWEVER, it would disrupt the gelling of the current lineup of Spurs strikers Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe, Eidur Gudjohnsen, and Peter Crouch, all of whom would be pushed two places down the pecking order to make room for the returning strikers Berbatov and Keane, as they were usually favourited by their managers.

The result of bringing Berbatov and even bringing Keane back permanently is a simple coin flip. It could either be considered a stroke of genius or a genius having a stroke.



Yes, he's probably the most lethargic, ungrateful player in the world, BUT if we look at the bigger picture, he could be conserving energy for when he has the ball fed to him, and then that's where we start to see exactly why Fergie paid £30.75 million (makes me chuckle every time I think about that) for a player from a non-Champions League-accredited team.

Berbatov to me is a lot like...a sponge (let me explain before you comment saying "WTF"). He's like a sponge because if you drench it in enough water (give him enough passes), the water (his class) will eventually ooze out of him on its own for quite a while.

To think that there was previously a speculated bid of £39 million PLUS Louis Saha is enough to make any United fan or Glazer family member grimace!

Still, I don't know who currently feels stupider out of Fergie paying through his shiny red nose for him, the Spurs chairman for selling him, or Berbatov himself...

I have a sneaking suspicion it's all three, but shhhh...


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