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The Berbatov Question: Should The Manchester United Man Stay or Should He Go

COS contributor George Sims broaches a subject that has got many at Old Trafford scratching their heads.

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The Manchester United striker and the captain of Bulgarias national football team, Dimitar Berbatov speaks during his special press conference

He hasn’t had the best season has he? Not for lack of trying, Dimitar Berbatov just hasn’t met the high expectations of the Old Trafford faithful this season, scoring a mediocre 12 goals in 43 appearances. Understandably, there have been questions about his future as a member of a club that infamously demands success at the highest level. He’s been linked with a whole host of clubs, he’s been mooted as a bargaining tool in bringing in better talent and he’s been battered from pillar to post by the press. Amazingly though, it appears that Sir Alex is going to stand by his man.
The sheer depth of the speculation about his future seemed to make the chances of Berbatov walking into the Old Trafford dressing room next season very, very slim. But every single article, every report and every rumour about his departure was seemingly made redundant when last week Sir Alex insisted that Berbatov would “definitely not” be going anywhere. This has created something of a conundrum for fans and pundits alike, what will Ferguson do with Berbatov next season? Sir Alex has shown a great deal of patience with Berbatov, but surely he won’t play Berbatov in a similar role next season? He’s had a multitude of opportunities to prove his worth alongside Rooney, as well as some opportunity to showcase his ability as a lone striker, yet his misfiring time and again has lead to him becoming something of a scapegoat. It’s hard to see Sir Alex relying on him to score the goals that are the life-blood of United’s premier league and champions league campaigns, in the absence of Wayne Rooney next season, so where exactly will he play?

There seems to be sentiment among some fans that it’s either Berbatov or another striker, that a striker arriving and Berbatov leaving are inextricably linked. But perhaps Sir Alex believes he can keep hold of Berbatov and find a replacement by moving Berbatov into a different, deeper position. After all, Berbatov feels he has reached the pinnacle of his career and is grateful to be at the club, surely he’d play out of position in his eagerness to remain a part of the Old Trafford set up.

There is some weight to the idea that he could drop behind Rooney into an attacking midfield role. Using the likes of Nani, Valencia, Obertan and more sparingly, Giggs to provide some of the attempts on goal while supporting Rooney in a lone striker role that had a good deal of success this season, Berbatov could then be used to play the vital passes and immaculate through-balls that Rooney thrives on. Equally, he could act as an ultra-attacking midfielder, holding the ball up front allowing time for ‘the usual suspects’ to push forward. To the same extent, though less likely, he could form the leading edge of the midfield in the more traditional 4-4-2, sitting behind Rooney and a yet to arrive strike partner. Obviously dropping a striker into a midfield role has its draw-backs, firstly Berbatov’s poor work-rate. He’d have to move quickly and decisively to spread the ball to the right attacking options in the way that Paul Scholes does and Berbatov’s “lazy” style would struggle to fit in with such a role. However, the other half of this role, holding play, would be well suited to his excellent ‘prit-stick’ ball control.

Whether Ferguson can help Berbatov develop into this postion, and whether Berbatov, though happy at the club, would be willing to play in a deeper position remain to be seen. Surely though, he won’t be relied upon to put the ball in the net on a regular basis.

As long as Berbatov is employed in a different role than that of last season, and isn’t relied upon to provide the vital goals in the absence of Rooney, most United fans will be happy to see a player of his ability remain at Old Trafford so long as the goals come from somewhere as well as Rooney.

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