Is Dimitar Berbatov on borrowed time at Old Trafford?

28 April 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson believes that Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Schalke 04 this week was one of the best team performances in his 25 years at the Old Trafford helm.

A bold statement indeed, but one that is also very difficult to disagree with.

However, while United’s squad begin to move into top gear as the battle for prizes hots up, Ferguson’s words may have caused the gut to wrench for one man – Dimitar Berbatov.

The Bulgarian centre forward failed to make the midweek trip to Gelsenkirchen, instead remaining in Manchester to receive treatment on a troublesome groin injury.

In his absence United ran riot against their German hosts, controlling the first-leg semi-final clash with an almost embarrassing ease. The only disappointing fact for the visitors is their advantage heading into the return fixture stands at just two goals.

It was a performance of sublime attacking quality from the first whistle, and one that could bring an end to 30-year-old Berbatov’s career in a United shirt.

But hang on a minute. This is a striker who has 21 league goals to his name this season, a statistic which no player in the Premier League can beat at present. Surely, when free of injury, he should be a permanent fixture in the United’s starting eleven?

Well, no. In truth a £30.75 million Berbatov and United do not fit. They never really have.

Sure the former Bayer Leverkusen and Tottenham Hotspur frontman has made some telling contributions since joining the club in 2008. This season alone he has bagged an outstanding hat-trick against Liverpool, scored five times against Blackburn Rovers while also recently notching an important late winner against Bolton Wanderers.

Obviously, Berbatov is a talented footballer, with a first touch that most players would give up their granny for.

But quite simply, for someone that is one of United’s most expensive ever signings, the composed Berbatov should be providing more.

In almost three seasons with the club, Berbatov is yet to find the net at Eastlands, Anfield, The Emirates or Stamford Bridge – the homes of clubs challenging United for the major honours in England.

Scoring goals in the Champions League has also proved to be a difficult feat, with Berbatov having not claimed a goal in the competition since United defeated Celtic 3-2 during the 2008 group stage.

For good measure, Berbatov has also featured in two FA Cup semi-finals, with his performance in the most recent against Manchester City coming in for a barrage of scrutiny.

The current front choice pairing of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez have had no such problems. Rooney has scored at all four of the aforementioned grounds, while Hernandez has four Champions League goals to his name to date.

And it now appears that manager Ferguson is finally running out patience with his centre forward. In fact, a leading fanzine carried a story in November 2010 that the boss was considering selling Berbatov to Benfica as early as last summer.

Out of United’s last 13 matches in all competitions, Berbatov has started just four. Ferguson now appears to favour pace, with the likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Hernandez forming a three pronged attack, allowing Rooney to roam free in the space vacated behind. In short, the style what many of the club’s supporters feel is the “United way.”

Such a philosophy leaves little room for Berbatov and one gets the impression that he would cut a forlorn and frustrated figure as a consistent substitute.

Not that Berbatov will struggle to find a suitor, his technical ability and composure will demand attention from a number of clubs across Europe.

Schalke 0-2 Manchester United. Great result for the Red Devils, potentially terminal for Berbatov’s tenure with the club.