Berbatov at a Crossroad
As Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov is crossing a busy street, an elderly woman cannot help but start shouting at him: "Hurry up! You are still a young man!"
The joke is obviously referring to what has been widely perceived as the Bulgarian striker's "laziness" on the pitch - perhaps the main reason why what started as his most fantastic season with the Red Devils ended up as a nightmare.
In 1999, CSKA Sofia, one of the most prominent Bulgarian football clubs, signed a 17 year-old kid from the financially struggling team of Pirin Blagoevgrad. A myth goes that CSKA "paid" just a couple of footballs in exchange for the young Dimitar Berbatov. This might be true or not, but it is worth mentioning that the youngster was spotted by Dimitar Penev, the same eccentric coach who once discovered legendary Hristo Stoichkov and led the Bulgarian national squad to the 1994 World Cup semifinals.
Generally ridiculed for his malapropisms and allegedly frequent alcohol abuse, Penev does seem to possess some impressive scouting skills.
Stoichkov is remembered as a genius madman, an extremely ill-tempered player who was nevertheless one of the most flamboyant strikers during the 90's.
Whenever scandals erupt involving Stoichkov and other football "bad boys", it is usually about sex, drugs, alcohol or simply aggression. This is clearly not the case with Dimitar Berbatov - but while he seems too humble and well-mannered for a football player, he has never failed to spark controversy.
Berbatov's career did not start as one would expect from a football wander-kid. While many praised him for his talent and creativity, most CSKA supporters bashed him for failing to score in important games, even though he used to bombard more obscure teams with goals (kind of rings a bell, doesn't it?)
A little before Berbatov left CSKA for Bayer Leverkusen, he was badly humiliated by the club's fans who were massively shouting obscenities at him after he failed to score in a crucial game against archrivals Levski Sofia. Of course, more than a decade later, the same supporters are extremely proud of the player their club "produced".
"Everything else is history" is how one would typically summarize Berbatov's development after he left Bulgaria. Well, the Bulgarian striker's rise to glory has never seemed easy. Save for his Tottenham Hotspur stay, Berbatov has always been criticized for failing to show his little touches of magic every single game and staying completely "invisible" in important clashes.
A "genius" or a "failure" is how Berbatov has most frequently been labeled - depending on whether he was inspired in a certain game or not. He is a player capable of single-handedly destroying Liverpool (scoring with one of the most amazing bicycle kicks I have ever seen on the way) - but may also seem totally useless the very next game.
So, what is in store for the unpredictable Bulgarian striker? While he is enjoying a rather peaceful summer break in his home country, taking care of his charity foundation and passing a couple of university exams, his future at Old Trafford remains highly questionable - especially after he was snubbed by Sir Alex Ferguson for the recent Champions League final (to be honest, no living forward could have helped Man Utd against this Barcelona squad).
It does not really matter whether the Bulgarian striker will stay in Manchester United or not - his magic will always be remembered. The football history knows many great athletes, but few real artists have graced the fields - the likes of Berbatov and Eric Cantona.
Needless to say, it is no time for eulogies. Berbatov still has a couple of football years ahead of him: we are yet to see the last of the Bulgarian "idler".
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