From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.07 :: Feb. 17, 2011
He divides opinion like no other player in the English Premier League, some say he is a genius who can produce magic whenever he wants, while others describe him as lazy and sulky.
But Dimitar Berbatov is starting to prove he is worth every penny of the GBP30million that Sir Alex Ferguson spent to bring him to Manchester United in September 2008, with 20 goals already this season in all competitions, including three hat-tricks.
The Bulgarian striker looks like he has finally settled down and is starting to reproduce the form that made him such a hero at his first club Bayer Leverkusen.
During his time in Germany, Berbatov made more than 150 appearances and scored 69 goals. He played a part in Leverkusen's successful UEFA Champions League campaign in 2001/02, scoring against Liverpool in the quarter-finals to help them reach the final before they were beaten by Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley for Real Madrid.
Berbatov's goal-scoring record attracted the attention of Tottenham and he moved to north London in May 2006 for a fee of just over GBP10million.
Like most foreign imports, he took a while to adapt to the Premier League's fast and physical style, but had an impressive debut season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions.
The 30-year-old's second season in England saw him earn more praise not just from pundits but from the likes of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who compared the former Bulgaria international to Thierry Henry. It also saw Berbatov add his first piece of English silverware to his trophy cabinet as he scored against Chelsea in the 2008 League Cup final.
It was only a matter of time before the Premier League big boys came knocking at Tottenham's door and enquiring about his services. Ferguson swooped to beat the transfer deadline to sign him in 2008 and United seemed to be a perfect fit for Berbatov.
Indeed, he ended his first season at Old Trafford by becoming the first Bulgarian to lift the Premier League title, but Berbatov struggled to acclimatise to his new surroundings. A return of nine EPL goals was compounded by a missed penalty in an FA Cup semi-final defeat against Everton and more Champions League final heartache, this time at the hands of Barcelona in May 2009.
There were flashes of genius here and there, a brilliant piece of footwork against West Ham was replayed over and over again, but there was little to suggest he was a GBP30million man.
It did not get any better in 2009/10 for Berbatov as United failed to retain the Premier League title and the striker continued to be inconsistent. So much so that rumours were rife that Berbatov would soon be on his way out of Old Trafford.
Pundits and fans seemed united in the belief that Berbatov's time with the Red Devils was at an end. Ferguson, though, kept faith and refused to offload him last summer.
It proved a confidence boost the striker needed and he is now back to his brilliant best. Berbatov — who retired from international football in May last year after making over 70 appearances for his country — is now the main man at United, given Wayne Rooney's lack of form, and has won over his critics with a series of stunning performances that has included hat-tricks against Birmingham, Blackburn and Liverpool.
An unbeaten start to the Premier League season means United are now in pole position in the title race and ensures Berbatov is finally living up to his billing as the next Eric Cantona.
Berbatov has been dating long-term girlfriend Elena Shtilianov for some time and she gave birth to their first child Dea in 2009. A Mercedes CL65 Coupe AMG takes pride of place in Berbatov's garage.
Name: Dimitar Berbatov
Club: Manchester United
Bulgaria caps: 74
Bulgaria goals: 48
Bulgaria debut: v Greece, November 1999
Moment to remember: Becoming the first Manchester United player in 64 years to score a hat-trick against Liverpool was a moment to savour for Berbatov.
Moment to forget: The 2009 FA Cup semi-final will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons for Berbatov after he missed a penalty as Everton eventually triumphed on spot-kicks.
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