Dimitar Berbatov has been reflecting on his career, the teams he played for, the footballers he played alongside and against and his achievements in football.
The Bulgarian forward played for clubs such as Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and Monaco across an 18-year career in Europe. But Berbatov, who recently signed for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League, reached the pinnacle of his career at Manchester United.
The 36-year-old spent four years at Old Trafford, after joining from Spurs for £30m in 2008. Berbatov helped United win two league titles and he finished top scorer in the 2010/11 season with 20 league goals. The Bulgarian netted a famous hat-trick against Liverpool that season and got five goals at home to Blackburn Rovers, as the club clinched their 19th league title.
Berbatov wasn’t the most prolific striker when at United, despite getting 20 goals that season, but he was a fantastic footballer, gifted with wonderful close control and vision that few other players possess. The Bulgarian strolled around the pitch, barely breaking a sweat, and he could frustrate some with his languid style. But he had the intelligence to know exactly when to make a decisive intervention, and the technique to make the most difficult of skills look simple.
It’s a shame the Premier League won’t let us show you his assist for Cristiano Ronaldo against West Ham in 2008, because it was incredible.
During a wide-ranging interview with Andy Mitten on ESPN, Berbatov covers a range of topics, including his former teammate Ronaldo. He says that, out of everything, it was Ronaldo’s work ethic that stood out during their season together at Old Trafford, before the Portuguese forward left for Real Madrid in 2009.
“Young players try and imitate the best players like Ronaldo,” Berbatov said.
“They try to imitate the hair, the clothes, the cars, the tricks. I try to tell them how hard Cristiano Ronaldo trained in training and after training. He only wanted to be the best. Everything else came after. Players shouldn’t try and imitate s***, they should concentrate on themselves and being professional. Ronaldo was fine in our dressing room. He could take a joke and Patrice Evra was doing jokes, but he was serious when he played. I was shy, quiet and used to watch all of this.”
Berbatov also spoke about Ronaldo’s rival Lionel Messi. The Bulgarian praised both players, but considers the Barcelona forward to be ahead of his former United teammate. Berbatov conceded that, in the 2009 Champions League final when Barcelona beat United 2-0 in Rome and Messi scored, he was the decisive played on the night.
“Because he’s the f***ing greatest. Ronaldo is brilliant, Messi more my kind of player. He sees the game so clearly. He can score, create, he’s the complete player, the best ever probably. If you ask someone older than me they will say Pele, Maradona or Puskas or Di Stefano. But for my generation it’s Messi or Ronaldo. They’re pretty much even, but something with Messi makes me shout ‘Messi! Messi!’ when I watch Barcelona on television.”
Berbatov also reflected on the United team he joined, and said that he realised straight away how special the side was.
“When I stood in the tunnel as a Manchester United player, I saw [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Wayne] Rooney, [Ryan] Giggs, [Paul] Scholes, [Gary] Neville, [Nemanja] Vidic, Rio [Ferdinand], [Patrice] Evra, Edwin van der Sar. I said to myself: ‘Berba, you need to cherish this moment forever, my friend.’ And then I looked at the opponents. They were already beaten.”