By Ewan Day-Collins
Mark James, on oldtrafford.com, noted how many ponder the question: Is Luis Nani Manchester United’s “great underachiever”? This is a correct observation in this season’s context, but – if the answer is “Yes” in general – a more contentious assertion. For, certainly in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era, that undesired label surely belongs to Dimitar Berbatov.
Berbatov: Ferguson’s greatest failure, but, paradoxically, the signing of 2012.
Berbatov was not an irrational purchase in the final minutes of the 2008 transfer window. Ferguson, as with all spectators, could have only been impressed by the Bulgarian’s 46 Tottenham Hotspur goals from just 101 matches. The price was warranted, even if £30.75m is a committed investment.
We should not, therefore, draw comparisons with an equally underperforming striker in Andy Carroll – an unmerited acquisition by Liverpool at £35m.
Yet Berbatov was undeniably disappointing at United. At the loss of important leaders such as Cristiano Ronaldo, the supreme talent rises. Berbatov, if anything, faded behind Wayne Rooney’s imperious shadow; all the way to the bench. Ferguson lost patience in that 2009-10 season, settling on a 4-5-1 formation and discarding the now 31-year-old.
Berbatov improved to become the Golden Boot victor – though with only 20 goals – in the 2010-11 season. But many of his goals arrived bunched: a hat-trick against Liverpool; five against Blackburn. This is impressive, but inconsistency is ineffectual. The best strikers score regularly on the most important occasions – take Didier Drogba in Chelsea’s successful 2011-12 Champions League campaign. This explains Berbatov’s de-selection for the 2011 Champions League final against Barcelona; he was not trusted by Ferguson on the big occasion to perform.
Berbatov is still seen as lazy, justifiably. And perhaps this hindered him at a big club, where mere talent is not sufficient.
But at Fulham, his new home, his unquestionable talent is enough. His adept, soft touch; his ability to retain the ball in the tightest of situations; his effortlessness, his ease on the ball, especially when as a lone striker, is beautiful, and effective. This is adequate at a mid-table club – such as Fulham, or Tottenham in Berbatov’s years. This is why, though currently injured, he has already netted twice in only three Premier League outings for Fulham – who, though the fee was undisclosed, must have got him at a bargain price.
Berbatov is one of the frustrating types who succeed with their natural talent at small clubs, but have insufficient application to achieve at bigger ones. They will forever betray a sense of being too good for their prosperous environment, but are ultimately successful because they are comfortable.
Although Berbatov was palpably not a ridiculous purchase, he will go down as Ferguson’s greatest disappointment. Names will crop up such as Diego Forlan and Massimo Taibi, even Nani, among Ferguson’s ultimate let-down. But the sheer investment placed in Berbatov at £30m, coupled with his demonstrable failure to inspire in the way he could and should have done, leaves a lingering sense of the unfulfilled.
Berbatov, infuriatingly, will never achieve the heights he seemed once destined to reach.
About the Author
Ewan Day-Collins is a 16-year-old aspiring journalist. He enjoys writing about sport – especially football, cycling and cricket – yet has many other interests besides. As well as writing for OldTrafford.com, Ewan has written for ESPN cricinfo, cricketweb and the i newspaper. He hopes to pursue a career in journalism in the future.