The Libero - Consistency stands between Berbatov and greatness
Published: 22 Sep 2010 - 07:02:25
So, it turns out Dimitar Berbatov is a genius after all. Isn't he?
His sublime hat-trick against Liverpool was music of the sweetest variety to many Manchester United fans, who were beginning to wonder if the Bulgarian would ever come good.
A brisk start to the new campaign which saw four goals to his name from just five games had already indicated that this could finally be the season when his £30.75m price tag would be justified.
A brilliant hat-trick at Old Trafford, including that sensational overhead kick, served to confirm his electric form and finally prove that he is indeed capable of performing on the biggest stage, on his day.
That has always been the criticism of Berbatov; that he goes missing when he is needed the most, in big games when his vision, creativity and eye for goal is so crucial.
Over the past two seasons, his failure to step up to the plate has been compensated for, eclipsed even, by Wayne Rooney's terrific form.
But with Rooney currently struggling to find the back of the net, United's need for another of their players to take responsibility and lead the team from the front had never been greater. Berbatov, seemingly against the odds, has admirably assumed the role, effectively becoming Alex Ferguson's number one striker.
Is it a coincidence that Berbatov has upped his game just as Rooney's has suffered? Perhaps not, but Berbatov certainly enjoyed being the main man during his later years at Bayer Leverkusen and while at Tottenham. Maybe he revels in being top dog.
Maybe his form is simply down to the fact that he is a supremely gifted player; after all, before too long, talent usually shines through. He just needed some time to adjust following his move from Spurs and he's only just now beginning to settle.
Granted, a bedding-in period of over two years is certainly a long time, but as we've heard all week long from the manager and his team-mates, his quality was never in doubt.
Equally, it may be an issue of confidence. Berbatov is a confidence player, one who thrives when things are going his way - and who looks awful when not. Most strikers are. They need goals just as goalkeepers need gaffe-free performances. When they don't come, it is all too easy to allow their heads to drop - and once that happens it becomes difficult to break out of what quickly develops into a vicious cycle.
Yet Berbatov has managed to do just that, starting with his goal against Chelsea in the Community Shield and culminating in his second headed effort of the day against Liverpool. Having ended last season with a barren run which lasted eight games, it has taken him just six more outings to entirely turn things around.
Berbatov himself doesn't subscribe to any of the above reasons for the discovery of one the richest veins of form he has enjoyed during his career. He says it's all down to something all together more obvious - improved levels of fitness. He says he has worked hard on his physique and that he "feels alive" at the moment.
Which is great for him, and United. But it does rather beg the question: has he been unfit for the past two years? Has that been the problem all along? If so, how has it gone undetected for so long?
In these days of analytical sports science, when diet and training regimes are so pivotal to a player's performance levels, it almost beggars belief that a player like Berbatov and a club like United have failed to identify such a basic problem.
Never mind. What it does serve to highlight is the fine line between success and failure. Whatever the reasons for Berbatov's electric form, he must surely know that, as Rooney now realises, things can turn just as quickly in the opposite direction.
And before Berbatov's signing can be classed as a true success, he will have to show a little more consistency and sustain his current levels of play, enthusiasm, energy - and apparently fitness - throughout the duration of the season.
Only then will he be able to convince us that he truly is a genius.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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