Have we seen the last of Berbatov?

by Sam Peoples

Could his time be up? Photo: Phil Noble (Reuters)

Ever since Dimitar Berbatov became United’s most expensive signing in 2008 when he was bought for £30.75 million from Tottenham Hotspur, he has been the subject of much disdain amongst some of our fans. For every fan who enjoys the style of football and the elegance that he brings to United, there is another that simply dislikes his lackadaisical approach to the game and has many a time called for him to be shown the exit. If there was ever a time where it looked like Dimitar could possibly be leaving United then it would be this summer but is it really the right thing to do?

Berbatov with his hands of the Golden Boot last season

Last season, Berbatov was United’s most prolific goalscorer and emerged at the end of the season with a total of 20 goals which gave him the coveted Golden Boot trophy for the Premier League. Having scored a goal every 105.3 minutes of play (in comparison to Rooney’s 202.4 minutes and Hernandez’s 114.5 minutes), his strike rate became one that United fans had craved ever since he joined. Some still cried wolf at the fact that he only scored against 11 teams but considering United went into the month of January firmly atop the table, it was down to the goals of Berbatov and the creative spark of Nani. It was only after January that the Rooney and Hernandez partnership flourished and amidst the phenomenal rise of the Mexican, many forget just how important Berbatov was to us. SAF can’t be blamed for leaving Berbatov on the bench as United came out of the run-in in glorious fashion, thanks in no part to the unbreakable partnership of Rooney and Hernandez, and I respect Berbatov for his mature approach to being benched because he could of quite easily kicked up a fuss, especially after being left out of the squad entirely by SAF in the Champions League final (something I am still slightly baffled at). The signs are there for all to see that we may have seen the last minutes of Berbatov in a United shirt and from a strategic point of view, the future doesn’t seem to hold a place for the Bulgarian.

After SAF purchased Ashley Young, it became obvious that he was building a team around the strengths that the team had without Berbatov. Utilising the pace of Hernandez up front on his own sparked Rooney’s cracking end of the season in form and Berbatov just simply doesn’t fit into the formation. I will be very surprised if United line-up next season in a 442 formation at any point because now that we have Valencia, Nani, Park and Young all giving viable options to the winger department, it is likely that we will see a 433 or a 4231 formation being utilised more often than not. It would create a dynamic formation that would allow for the 3 players behind Hernandez to drift inside and create more space and the pace on the counter-attack would be frightening to behold for any opposition and it just simply doesn’t have any room for Dimitar.

Berbatov's hat trick against rivals Liverpool last season may well be his trophy moment in a United shirt. Photo: John Super (AP Photo)

There is even less room when you consider that Michael Owen has been rewarded with a 1-year contract extension and Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Mame Diouf are all returning from loan. 7 strikers in a squad? It is not feasible. Taking 1999 as my rule of thumb, United will line-up next season with 4 squad strikers that will be rotated and shifted. Considering Rooney and Hernandez are guaranteed a spot and Michael Owen has become a cameo player from the bench, it only leaves room for 1 more and for me, that place has to be given to Danny Welbeck. The Mancunian striker impressed me a lot when he was on loan at Sunderland and his form at the U21 Championships in Denmark has surely got SAF on red alert.

The financial situation surrounding Berbatov also points towards an exit for him as he only has 1 year left on his contract before he can leave on a Bosman next year. Seeing as rumours that Valencia and PSG are interested in signing him for around £13 million have emerged, it seems a feasible option that United may well choose to get a return on the £30 million invested on him in 2008.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Dimitar Berbatov and all that he has done for United but this summer is marking a big change at Old Trafford. The retirement of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin Van Der Sar and the loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final once again has led SAF to be strong in the transfer market. The influx of youth into the squad is revitalising our counter-attacking ethos that has existed at United for many seasons and unfortunately there just isn’t the squad space for Berbatov. For me, I think we have seen the last of him and he will be sold before the season starts and I want to just say that I wish him the best in whatever he does next. I think if he went to the Bundesliga or Ligue 1, he could re-kindle the sort of form that made him such a prized asset last season at United but I think the curtains are now closing on what has been a very topsy turvy career for the Bulgarian at Old Trafford.

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