As you may know, Dimitar Berbatov was quoted recently as saying he’s lost some respect for Sir Alex Ferguson. You always hate to hear a former player criticise the club, and this is a very strange comment after Berbatov was so patient and considerate when he was struggling to get playing time at United. Berbatov seems to have forgotten that the best teams need backup players and if there are no injuries, they may see little playing time.
You may also know that we had some problems keeping strikers fit before Berbatov arrived. It made sense for Sir Alex to want to have four quality strikers, as we were experiencing periods of weeks with only one fit striker because two were out injured. In Rooney and Tevez, we had two strikers who were rather similar, so it seemed natural to want to find a striker with different assets and strengths, and a little height.
Part of the problem is that the game has changed. In the last five to seven years we’ve seen the size of squads balloon among the top teams, and United is an excellent example. Anyone in such a large squad as a fourth choice striker will be left wanting game time if there are no injuries in that position. Every point, every goal is crucial, as we know too well. With the incredibly high stakes of the modern game, a top manager simply has no room for sentiment or putting a player before the team. And so even a top player like Berbatov may end up getting only 21 appearnaces in a season.
I don’t doubt that Sir Alex told Berabtov he was in his plans, but he shouldn’t have confused that for a guarantee of time on the field. Those plans were probably that he would provide injury cover, as Rooney and Welbeck have been known to miss several games a season to injury. In the case of last season this was rarely required. I’m sure Sir Alex chose his words carefully because he knows that circumstances can dictate that a squad player gets little game time.
I know that many supporters have felt bad that Berbatov didn’t get more games last season, but few supporters thought we would be better with Berbatov on the field. When you compare last season with Welbeck up front with the 2010-11 season, where Berbatov lead the league in goals, you see that last season brought nine more points, 11 more goals and four fewer goals conceded.
And that’s without Vidic, possibly our best player, for almost the whole season, Chicharito scoring fewer goals, missing Paul Scholes for half the season and the worst defensive crisis this team has likely ever seen.
As Berbatov himself mentioned, the game has move towards faster players and faster play. By his own admission, he does not possess great speed and liked to hold up the ball. Welbeck was a much better fit with our tactics being based on quickness and passing the ball on the ground.
It certainly would be odd for Berbatov to suggest Sir Alex didn’t value him. His insistence of playing him in the 2008-9 season seemed to cause major aggravation to Tevez, who felt like no matter how many goals he scored he would sit the next game. Berbatov was given many chances to shine, and unfortunately he struggled when we needed him the most.
While his scoring record in the Premier League of 48 goals in 108 games looks pretty good, he only scored five goals in 25 games in the Champions League and one goal in seven games in the FA Cup. His overall total of 56 goals in 149 games is more modest, but still something to be very proud of.
Berbatov has every right to have a moan about his lack of playing time, once he’s left the team, but he’s wrong to think it’s personal and a matter of Sir Alex not respecting him. Managers have to make hard decisions, and it’s crucial to keep from making decisions based on personal feelings. After showing such a dignified patience while a Manchester United player, something he should still be given credit for, he deserves citicism for attacking Sir Alex.