Shades of 'King Denis' as Dimitar lays down Law
Since the abdication of the King 37 years ago there has been many a centre-forward crash and burn at Old Trafford. Ted MacDougall, Garry Birtles, Peter Davenport and Alan Brazil all arrived with reputations and big prices on their heads -- but none survived comparison with Denis Law.
It seemed for so long that Dimitar Berbatov, United's record signing, was playing his way into the same vacuum, passive to the point of inertia, decorative rather than integral and with a reclusive personality that appeared unsuited to the task of leading the line at Manchester United. Though the season had started well for him, the big statement was still missing. Not now, not after this.
At 2-2, an inquest beckoned into another winning position surrendered. Berbatov hauled his team-mates out of the negative spiral with a hat-trick that owed everything to his own invention.
The scissored second bore the mark of genius, but the third was arguably the more impressive because it came when the demand was at its highest. A clawing sense of doom had enveloped Old Trafford. Berbatov dispelled it with a header Nat Lofthouse would have been proud to own. And he beat Jamie Carragher to claim it, a man that cannot spell 'lie down'.
Eight years ago Diego Forlan scored twice at Anfield to secure a United victory over their greatest rivals. Though it proved insufficient to save his career at Old Trafford, it sealed a place in United lore.
Berbatov launched his own t-shirt range with this contribution. More than that, he convinced the doubters that there is more to his game. Magical was how he described it. "Probably my best game for United, but I don't want it to be my last."
See, Berbatov even says the right things. Perhaps now, Berbatov might develop into the substantial figure his talent has always promised. Responsibility suits him. It has come his way largely as a result of Wayne Rooney's foibles and his accompanying fallow spell. Rooney's incredible run last season both eased the pressure on Berbatov and marginalised him.
United asked Rooney to fill Ronaldo's boots, which he did to devastating effect. Berbatov acquiesced in the bit part bequeathed to him, scoring a disappointing 12 goals.
The decision by Alex Ferguson not to recruit a marquee striker in the summer was in itself a statement of faith in Berbatov. Javier Hernandez and Bebe are punts that might pay dividends.
Berbatov's time had come. It was up to him to take the opportunity. Seven goals in six games this season suggests he has. "The second goal was unexpected. Not many go in the net. It was a fantastic strike," Ferguson said. "We are very pleased for him because his form has been excellent." Berbatov, substituted in the closing minutes, was clapped all the way to his seat.
When the final whistle sounded he was escorted to the tunnel by not one, but two camera men.
His contribution was eulogised by manager and team-mates. United have played only five Premier League fixtures and already there is talk of his hat-trick averting a crisis.
Patrice Evra remarked that one slip, at Fulham, could be seen as an accident, a second, at Everton, likewise. A third, he said, would have looked like the form of a team that did not want to win the title. Chelsea's filleting of the Premier League's tiddlers is creating an impression of infallibility that all are buying into.
A draw, said Kenny Dalglish, would have been terminal for United's and Liverpool's championship aspirations. He should know better.
Twenty-six years ago United set fire to the old First Division winning their opening 10 fixtures. Only boredom seemed to end the scorched-earth policy with a draw at home to Luton, remember them. The season also ended with 10 straight victories. This time for Liverpool, who won the title.
How you finish is as important as how you start. Perhaps Dalglish's comments were a commentary on Liverpool, a side set up to contain here. Only Steven Gerrard stood out against the mediocrity.
It was hard to argue with Ferguson that a draw would have been a travesty. Berbatov certainly deserved better. His challenge is to do it all again next week, and the week after that. Just like Denis. (© Daily Telegraph, London)