‘I was the happiest guy in the world’: Dimitar Berbatov on reaching ‘the top of the mountain’ at Manchester United, why the club MUST add more signings to compete for the title this season and how he discovered Anthony Martial at Monaco
- Dimitar Berbatov has looked back fondly at his superb Manchester United spell
- The 39-year-old, now retired, believes that joining the club is his finest moment
- He says United will struggle to mount a title race unless they add more quality
- The Bulgarian also reflected on discovering Anthony Martial at Monaco
The sight of Dimitar Berbatov sauntering across the Old Trafford turf will live long in the memory of every Manchester United fan.
His time in the Premier League was christened with an array of jaw-dropping goals, often rounding off his silky movements and lightning-sharp decision-making. Unsurprisingly, when recalling his finest moments the 39-year-old still can’t help but smile fondly.
He exuded an enviable confidence on the field and still does today, even over the medium of a Zoom video call. Berbatov has a United parka draped over his seat, and his shelves over both shoulders are bustling from all angles with countless trophies, footballs and memorabilia. Each piece of silverware provides a pertinent and permanent reminder of his individual highlights.
Dimitar Berbatov has revealed joining Manchester United was the highlight of his stellar career
The former striker, now an ambassador for Betfair, has looked back fondly on his playing days
Ahead of the new 2020-21 Premier League season, the former Red Devil has reflected on a sparkling career at Old Trafford, which saw him drop jaws and amaze with his effortless skill on a weekly basis.
His breathtaking goal against Blackburn, which put an end to a flowing move started by himself at the other end, the overhead kick against Liverpool that sealed his hat-trick and the infamous spin on the byline against West Ham are all stand out pieces of brilliance, but for him another memory tops the lot.
‘The highest moment for me was when I signed with United. This was the moment I reached my personal success, the top of the mountain,’ Berbatov tells Sportsmail. ‘I was the happiest guy in the world because I was building and working towards that moment.
‘After that came all the moments. I trained with my team-mates, played with them, because it was special to step onto the Old Trafford pitch every time. It was even more special to lift the trophy at the end of the season, to be a top scorer for my team. We beat Liverpool’s records for titles as well.’
Berbatov remains one of the all-time great Premier League scorers after netting 229 goals
He believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will struggle to battle for the title without more investment
With 94 goals from 229 Premier League games to his record, Berbatov remains one of the great top-flight scorers. His suave nature and unmatched ability to stride across the length of a field, seemingly at walking pace, have often seen him mistakenly labelled as lazy.
‘Some people don’t understand it, but if you are clever in your head, even if you are slow in speed, you can still be quick,’ he told the BBC earlier this year, and it is difficult to disagree.
But it may have been his penchants for this particular style of play that saw him dropped entirely from United’s squad for the 2011 Champions League final. Barcelona, arguably at the very peak of their powers under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola, travelled to Wembley. It was Javier Hernandez who was given the nod to partner Wayne Rooney, and Berbatov was forced to watch on from the stands.
‘It was a difficult moment in my career,’ Berbatov admits, before graciously adding: ‘It happens to a lot of players all the time. I’m not the only one.’
His old club will have a delayed start to the new season after their recent exploits in the Europa League, with their first game not until next week as they take on Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
Berbatov said Bruno Fernandes made a ‘massive difference’ but urged United to recruit again
Despite United’s last-gasp dash for a top four spot after football returned from its lengthy hiatus, Berbatov is unsure whether the team has the resources to dislodge Manchester City and Liverpool from the summit just yet.
He is keen for the club to bring in a new defender but holds doubts over whether the club record deal for Jadon Sancho will finally be hauled over the line.
‘I think they have a good squad, especially with the signing of Donny van de Beek. I think they need a centre back for sure,’ he says. ‘That completes the squad in my opinion. I know they are looking to buy a forward, the first one being Jadon Sancho. It’s taking forever, I don’t know if the deal is going to happen.
‘Are they strong enough to challenge City or Liverpool? I wish that’s the case. They need to challenge these two teams, it’s going to be difficult, but nobody believed they could qualify for the Champions League last season.
‘They bought Bruno Fernandes and he made a massive difference; we all saw that. Maybe if they bring in Sancho, they will repeat that scenario. That would be a good signing for the team for sure.’
The 39-year-old is expecting deadline day drama in the same style as his move from Spurs
With less than four weeks until the window slams shut, Berbatov has predicted yet more deadline day chaos. His move to United was infamously sealed with just hours remaining and he expects clubs to be scrambling for targets in a similar manner once again.
‘We will find out what happens in the last two or three days of the transfer window. It’s England! From my experience, everything is happening in the last two or three days. This is how business is done in England and everybody’s used to that.’
Berbatov started his career with CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria at the tender age of 17 and it wasn’t long before he headed to Bayer Leverkusen after being impressed by his exploits in front of goal. The move proved to be a major turning point for him, culminating in an appearance in the 2002 Champions League final against Real Madrid.
The ace enjoyed a good relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson despite sometimes being dropped
Bayer Leverkusen had brought Berbatov to Germany after his impressive exploits in Bulgaria
Liverpool came calling in 2006, but Berbatov opted to join Tottenham and later earned his dream switch to United. The ex-frontman even jokingly believes he remains good enough to spearhead the current swashbuckling strike force coached by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The 57 goals he netted for the club goes some way to justifying his cheeky jibe, albeit at the expense of Anthony Martial being shunted into a wider position again and Mason Greenwood having to settle for a spot on the bench.
‘I’d have myself in the No 9 position with Rashford and Martial around me so they can sprint and run,’ he says, his face etched with a warm grin. ‘I played with Martial at Monaco, so I know what he can do. He was crossing the ball, passing, and we had a good understanding. That would be a great triangle! He (Greenwood) is going to learn from me!’
The emergence and newfound confidence flooding from Martial helped United record a third-placed finish last season, and Berbatov was lucky enough to witness the young Frenchman’s first steps in senior football.
Berbatov has recalled discovering current United striker Anthony Martial’s talents at Monaco
He said: ‘I remember when I signed with Monaco, during my first meeting with Claudio Ranieri he told me, “Berba, we have a special talent here. His name is Martial, and he will have a great future.” Ranieri knew that long before anyone else. When I saw him train, the way he moved, you could see the talent straight away.’
Berbatov called time on his entertaining career last year, and while he intends to delve into the world of coaching, he is restricted to the comfort of his own home for now whilst watching his beloved football. His desire to immerse himself in the camaraderie and culture of a rowdy dressing room again is obvious.
He will undertake his UEFA Pro coaching licence, he says, and who can blame him for setting his sights to the similar peaks he scaled during his playing days?
‘When I was a young boy back in my country I used to imagine playing for the biggest clubs in the world and it happened. Dream on!’
For more from Betfair Ambassador, Dimitar Berbatov, head to www.betfair.com/berbatov.
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