Thoughts of what might have been can often cross the mind. Watching former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan score crucial goals in both semis and the final for Athletico Madrid which took the Europa Cup to Spain made one wonder whether both the title race and the Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich may have taken a different turn had he been available to partner Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford this season.
Nobody will ever know but thinking back to the many games in which Dimitar Berbatov struggled to meet expectations since his highly anticipated move from Spurs brought back memories of the Uruguayan’s four disappointing seasons at United before finally finding his true form by moving to first Villarreal then to Athletico.
Despite numerous assurances by Sir Alex Ferguson that the Bulgarian will not be going anywhere, the number of reports suggesting that Berbatov is wanted by a number of European clubs suggest that there is no certainty of him still being at United next season.
Old Trafford legend Denis Law has now compared Berbatov to Juan Sebastian Veron who is also perceived as one of Ferguson’s failed signings. Law has a record 237 goals from 404 United appearances and has warned Berba that he needs to up the work rate in order to get the fans off his back saying “I don’t really want to knock him but it’s a fact that he hasn’t come up to the standard he set at Spurs where he looked to be an extremely good player”
The Bulgarian striker has scored just 26 goals in two seasons since his £30.75million move to Old Trafford in August 2008. That poor return echoes Veron’s plight after he arrived in 2001 for a club record £28m but struggled to make an impact.
“Berbatov has always had that laid back style even when he was at Tottenham” Law continued “it’s what fans admired him for but now he gets criticised for it. Veron looked an excellent player with Argentina and in Italy as well but when he came to United he didn’t do it” It finally took a move back to his native country for Veron to once again start showing his undoubted class.
In the last few days Berbatov has quit international football following criticism of his performances back home and has admitted that he believes Ferguson will go in search of another striker this summer but has declared that he has no intentions of leaving Old Trafford because he will never find a better club.
“I’m sure United will buy a new striker but I’m already here and that’s important” he confessed “I will try to fulfill my contract because where would I go after United? I have reached the top with them. I do not know about interest from other clubs and there are no meetings planned because I am a Manchester United player. In my two years here things could have been better but they could have been worse too, I have had my moments”
Berbatov has announced his decision amid a candid appraisal of his time at United in which he has only managed 26 goals. He has insisted that there were never any conversations with AC Milan or Bayern Munich who reportedly have an interest in him. Commenting on his international retirement the 29 year old said “I feel exhausted and now there are many guys who can emerge from my shadow. For them the moment has come and you should always know when to stop”
Berbatov’s languid approach to the game and visible discontent with team mates on the pitch have invited criticism from United fans. His failure to deliver when Rooney was injured recently also raised the most searching questions yet about his future at the club. Assistant manager Mike Phelan has admitted that getting the best out of Berbatov can be a challenge.
But the striker was indignant about his on pitch demeanor saying “I might not look happy but I can’t grin like an idiot on the field. I do not show any emotions but I’m really happy because I am with the biggest team in the world. I didn’t discuss my decision about no longer playing for Bulgaria with Sir Alex but you know when to say ‘enough’ and I have had ailments for several months” Berbatov added.
His focus is now totally on United saying “I have won the championship and the Carling Cup but people had great expectations for the money it cost to sign me. We do not know what will happen in the third year”
Berbatov may also need a knee operation this summer to remove some muscular debris which has been troubling him since before the turn of the year and his fitness levels have contributed to him quitting the international scene. He overtook Hristo Bonev as Bulgaria’s all time leading scorer in November when he got his 48th goal in a friendly against Malta.
Nobody really knows what next season may bring for the Bulgarian except perhaps Ferguson. Berbatov has been given many opportunities without really delivering for United but with his decision to retire from international football, Sir Alex may be tempted to have a fresh look at his options – with Forlans’ belated rediscovery of his goal scoring touch possibly also weighing on his mind.
Should Sir Alex Ferguson persevere with Berbatov for another season?