EXCLUSIVE: Dimitar Berbatov says he couldn’t speak to team-mates because of self-doubt at Man United, reveals why he chose Sir Alex Ferguson over Man City – and tells a great Sir Bobby Charlton story
- Bulgarian striker revealed Sir Bobby Charlton’s wise words before his debut
- Berbatov regrets leaving United when he did but made up with Alex Ferguson
- Follow Mail Sport’s new Man United WhatsApp channel for all the breaking news
Having an inferiority complex is not something that immediately springs to mind when meeting Dimitar Berbatov.
He’s in his sports car, driving around Bulgaria wearing shades in the rain with a sleek black jacket. As chic now as he was when gliding around Premier League pitches.
Even through a Zoom lens, he reeks of cool. He’s been a gangster in a film back home, Revolution X, and still holds ambitions of becoming the country’s FA president.
Manchester United certainly appreciate their former forward, appointing him a club ambassador. Fans still approach him about that hat-trick against Liverpool in 2010 and he played a crucial part in a couple of league titles.
But there is a self-reflection to Berbatov that speaks of an intriguing struggle of belonging at Old Trafford.
Dimitar Berbatov celebrates completing a memorable hat-trick against Liverpool in 2010
His second goal that afternoon at Old Trafford was a stunning overhead kick
Berbatov, 42, still looks very stylish as he drives around Bulgaria in his shades and sports car
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‘I don’t feel like a guy who can talk about Sir Bobby Charlton much because there are others who have spent so much more time with him,’ he tells Mail Sport before rattling off the perfect story of what Charlton was to all-conquering United sides and the awe with which he inspired.
Berbatov was inside the away dressing room at Anfield, ready for his United debut in September 2008 after a shock deadline-day move from Tottenham.
Taping his feet, fiddling with his socks, tying his laces. He was in from the start. Days don’t come much bigger, really.
‘Someone is patting me on the back, so I turn around. It’s Sir Alex (Ferguson), obviously. And next to him is Sir Bobby. Until that moment, I’d never spoken to Bobby Charlton! Imagine me being starstruck. I’m sat there thinking, ‘What do I say now?’
‘I was concentrating on the game and now I’m talking to Sir Bobby. My mind was confused a little bit. He just said, ‘Hello Berba, good luck, I’m here if you need anything.’ The moment, as special as it was, was probably not the right time!’
It sounds as if this encounter happened around 15 minutes before kick off. Berbatov, a Betfair ambassador, laughs.
‘Yes it was! It was very nice but very confusing. I was thinking, ‘Boss, what are you doing man?’ I couldn’t say anything proper to him because I was thinking about the game.
It has been an emotional week at Old Trafford following the death of legend Bobby Charlton
A sea of tributes have been left under the Holy Trinity statue on the Old Trafford forecourt
‘Sir Bobby was there for everybody. After the games, even if we lost. In some people you can see in their faces that nobility, that class. That was him.
‘It’s important that a player who is joining United needs to put it on himself to understand where he is going and what the history of the club is.
‘To know who came before him and what they did, so he can respect the past to have a good future. If you have a chance to meet these legends, like we did with Sir Bobby or Eric Cantona or Peter Schmeichel, Bryan Robson, then you can get some of their desire and passion for the club.’
Berbatov, at the time, felt uncertain of his standing within the United squad. He knew that the £31million transfer was deserved yet lived riddled with self-doubt.
He didn’t even join in with conversations because he hadn’t achieved anything like the success of his new teammates. In hindsight, he wishes he’d been less introverted.
‘Maybe it was because I was from a small country,’ he says. ‘Maybe it played a role in my mind that I am small and not as good as the rest.’
Sir Alex Ferguson welcomes Berbatov to United after he completed a £30.75m move in 2008
Berbatov is roughed up by his former Tottenham team-mates on his return to White Hart Lane with Manchester United in December 2008
He was though. So good, in fact, that Ferguson wrote the foreword to his autobiography. The pair didn’t speak when the striker left for Fulham in 2012.
That was a prolonged fallout from Berbatov’s failure to make the squad for the Champions League final defeat by Barcelona a year earlier, even after he had won the Premier League golden boot. Ferguson has since apologised.
‘I don’t have a time machine, I can’t go back,’ he says. ‘If I could go back, I would probably have stayed with United for more years. It is United. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the biggest team in the world, you’re not going to feel happy not playing. As painful as it is, go to a different place.
Berbatov lifts the Premier League trophy in 2011, one of two won while at Old Trafford
‘With the book, I had the chance to call and ask if he could do it and that made me happy. We’re not speaking every day because I know that this is not my place. I’m not Scholes, Neville or Giggs. These are the guys who have the right to speak to Sir Alex every day if they want to.’
All of this might never have happened, of course. Berbatov might have been talking this week as a Manchester City ambassador, not United.
Everybody remembers the television pictures of Berbatov with Ferguson, who had earlier greeted him at Manchester Airport, waiting to sign the contract.
City, taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group, attempted to hijack the deal. Certain that United would come through, Berbatov told his agent to ‘f*** off’ when broaching the eventuality of new money across town.
‘City never crossed my mind. I was just imagining myself with the shirt, the badge, the trophies and playing with all of those players at the time.
‘You forget everything else straight away. That was my only thinking, nothing else – trust me. A once in a lifetime opportunity and you need to grab it.’
So City went for Robinho and got the raw end; United supporters came up with the ‘one look at City’ chant for him. You wonder whether the decision might be different now, whether Berbatov would prefer Sunday’s visitors rather than hosts. The trophies, the manager, the history being made.
Berbatov celebrates a goal with Ronaldo during the Portuguese star’s final United season
In total, the Bulgarian scored 56 goals in 149 games for United, including this acrobatic effort against West Ham in 2010
‘This is the fact: United are chasing City,’ he says. ‘You can’t say any different. The roles have shifted. It’s painful for everybody to see this but it’s a fact.
‘Let’s see what will happen when Pep Guardiola leaves. City could continue in the way they are or go back behind United.
‘It’s up to United to try to close that gap as soon as possible otherwise we’re risking a period of time of not winning the league… now it’s 10 years, we’re risking becoming like Liverpool were. It’d be a major disaster.
‘The stadium needs to be renovated, to be up with modern times. The club is as big as the players on the pitch. When you win, you have a product. When you lose, everybody suffers.’
For more from Betfair Ambassador Dimitar Berbatov click here.
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