Monday 27 February 2017

City miss was final straw for Berbatov

When awards are handed out at the end of the season, it's usually a source of great pride to the recipient but rarely has a campaign gone by like this one when being so good has reflected so badly.

It started with Manchester United going on an unbeaten run which stretched to 24 games but hardly seemed to rise above the ordinary. Then Arsenal went from December 13 to April 20 without losing a league game which would normally bring a title charge but instead coincided with them exiting from four competitions and dropping to fourth in the league.

Then there's the individual awards and the suspicion that neither players themselves, nor journalists, know anything about the game. This was given added legs as they respectively rewarded a man whose finest moment came in a 4-3 defeat and another who was captain of a sinking ship.

Anybody who can inspire a chant of "taxi for Maicon" in the San Siro is obviously a good player but Gareth Bale's hat-trick against Inter Milan still came in a losing cause and was comfortably the high-point of his season.

Yet, six months later, his fellow professionals still believed he was the league's best player (although, bizarrely, only the second best young player behind Jack Wilshere).

Given the chance to have their say, the football writers decided that Scott Parker was the player most deserving of recognition despite his team finishing stone last.

Parker might have raged against the dying of West Ham's light but, in such mediocrity, it's not difficult to stand out.

Had somebody like Darren Fletcher been among the dross in the Hammers team, he would probably have looked like Xavi.

Yet the poster boy for the bad-to-be-good brigade managed to be the league's joint top scorer, at times dragging his team towards three points which ultimately ended in them winning the league and still managed to be ignored, not just when the awards were being given, but when the jerseys were being handed out for the club's most important game of the season.

Dimitar Berbatov certainly comes across as laid-back but even he must have been riled by finding himself behind two starting strikers whose combined league tally is just two more than his. He was even overlooked on the bench for Michael Owen who made one league start all season and whose career highlight came in 1998.

Over the course of the season, various United players have come in for praise for their contribution to their 19th title but, by the time of the run-in, Berbatov's 21 league goals seemed to have been forgotten.

Berbatov's Champions League record is pretty poor. But, given the tiny amount of possession that Manchester United were always likely to have last Saturday, it was strange that they decided to omit a player who tends to hold onto the ball rather than constantly trying to run in behind the defence resulting in the type of 40-yard hopeful passes that were so much a feature of United's play against Barcelona.

BUMPED

Berbatov's five goals against Blackburn in November certainly bumped up his tally but, despite the perception, his goals didn't just arrive when the opposition was beaten.

There was the hat-trick against Liverpool at Old Trafford in a 3-2 victory that would normally see the player canonised at the Stretford End rather than forgotten about a couple of months later.

Then there was the two in a 2-0 win at Sunderland, one in a 1-1 draw with Birmingham, two in the stirring 3-2 comeback against Blackpool and an 88th-minute winner against Bolton in one of those games United specialise in when they win titles.

None of those teams are of the calibre of Barcelona but, given that United found themselves 2-1 down early in the second half on Saturday night and further behind soon after, what was the point of having Owen on the bench if he wasn't required to get a goal in that situation?

The moment everything seemed to change for Berbatov was the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City when he lifted the ball over the bar from just inside the six-yard box and, when the camera panned to Ferguson, he wore a look of somebody who decided that was the last straw.

Berbatov has played four games since then and, at 30, United will presumably try to recoup some of the e31 million they paid Tottenham. Although, if Ferguson doesn't think that he's better than Owen, the 'for sale' ad might take some creative thinking.

The Bulgarian's next move is likely to be down the league where 20-odd goals will probably earn him some recognition if not any medals.

Shining among mediocrity rather than being the top scorer on the best team in the country seems to be a better way to go.

Irish Independent

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