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How stylish Dimitar Berbatov became a Man Utd fan favorite

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Dimitar Berbatov wasn’t as explosive as Cristiano Ronaldo, as powerful as Wayne Rooney or as tenacious as Carlos Tevez, but the languid Bulgarian – and cult favorite – brought his own unique style to Manchester United in the late 2000s. .

23 goals in consecutive seasons for Tottenham since leaving Bayer Leverkusen in 2006 convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that Berbatov was worth pursuing in the summer of 2008, as he looked to add even more firepower to his victorious team of the Champions League.

Manchester United's new player Dimitar B
Berbatov signed a record £ 30.75million at Man Utd in 2008 | DIMITAR DILKOFF / Getty Images

United eventually agreed to a club record of £ 30.75million for the 27-year-old, seeing competition from the new-rich Manchester City, who landed their own record-breaking contract for Robinho on the same day.

Berbatov was beautiful to watch. United’s new number nine was not your typical ‘number nine’. He was by no means a physical aggressor, instead bringing immense flair to the party. Mentally sharp, he seemed to play the game in slow motion, possessing a masterful touch and extraordinary vision.

He could be both a great goalscorer and a great goalscorer. In that first season he actually got more assists (11) in the Premier League than the nine goals he himself scored, with United claiming a third consecutive title. He also scored braces in the only two games the team won in what turned out to be a very tight Champions League group stage en route to a second straight final.

Dimitar Berbatov
Berbatov was an instant hit with Man Utd fans | Alex Livesey / Getty Images

A goal he set for Ronaldo against West Ham remains one of the lasting moments in Berbatov’s career at United. Chasing a pass that headed for a goal kick he controlled it and in a smooth motion he spun and knocked him down past Hammers center-back James Collins as if he wasn’t the. He then played it across the six-yard box for Ronaldo to score an easy tap-in.

In terms of singular moments of iconic sheer skill, it’s right up there with Fernando Redondo who returned Henning Berg to Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2000.

When Ronaldo and Tevez left in 2009, Berbatov’s goal production increased. He rose to 12 in the Premier League in 2009/10 and then went on to get 20 in 2010/11 as United claimed a record 19th league title to improve on Liverpool’s previous best score. It earned him a share of the Golden Boot, the first Eastern European player to finish a season atop the league goalscoring table.

Dimitar Berbatov
Hat-trick hero: Berbatov dominated Liverpool in 2010 | Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Berbatov’s best moments often came in bursts. During that campaign he has joined a select group of Premier League players for scoring five goals in one game, putting Blackburn to the sword in a 7-1 beating at Old Trafford. He had already scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Liverpool earlier in the same season, a United’s first hat-trick against the Merseysiders since 1947. His second goal that day was a kick-kick. suspended who defied logic, having first controlled him with his knee.

A third hat-trick this season against Birmingham saw him become the first United player since Ruud van Nistelrooy eight years earlier to score three trebles in a single campaign, and in January 2021 no player has done so since.

Berbatov’s career at United was ultimately relatively short, spanning only four years in total. But he largely contributed to the most concentrated period of success in club history. Plus, he looked breathtaking doing it.

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