Rooney warning to United's rivals: Berbatov looks a different beast
11 August 2009 01:40
Even in these sanitised times, fans can still do a nice line in irony. Hence the rather tongue-in-cheek cheers that greeted Dimitar Berbatov's decision to drop back and tackle Ashley Cole inside the Manchester United half during Sunday's Community Shield at Wembley.
Maybe Berbatov was disorientated or confused by the big pitch. Maybe he had taken a blow to the head and thought he was someone else. Or maybe he has changed. His United team-mate Wayne Rooney thinks so.
Rooney said: 'You can see in training, and in our pre-season games, that Dimitar's looking sharper and a little different. He's more determined, tracking back to help the full backs. He's definitely working harder and trying to impress. He's a brilliant player.'
Certainly Berbatov has some improving to do on last season, his first at Old Trafford.For all his undoubted ability, 14 goals from 44 appearances did not prove enough todisguise his uneasy relationship with the less sexy side of football.
As such, Berbatov's apparent reluctance to 'put sweat on the shirt' has left him with a little to prove this season.
'He (Berbatov) is certainly better when he's full of energy and getting touches of theball,' added Rooney. 'It's about a balance, I suppose.'
Despite the arrival of Michael Owen, it is likely that Rooney and Berbatov will begin theseason as Sir Alex Ferguson's first picks.
To call their relationship a partnership, though, is to stretch it a little. For example, though United scored 114 goals last season, Berbatov and Rooney combined directly to score only two of them.
'In the first half against Chelsea we played well as a partnership,' reflected Rooney. 'Inthe second half they came into the game more but we are still working on things.'
Ferguson has set Rooney a 25-goal target this season, something he has not managed in his five years at United.
'Of course it's realistic,' said Rooney. 'It's a target which I hope I'm going to reach. I'vealways said that I should score more goals.
'But I have never looked at myself being the main man. It's a team game and aboutthe team, not just me.'
Rooney has always understood that. As regards his team-mate Berbatov, perhaps ithas not been so clear-cut.