Dimitar Berbatov: I'm ready to throw off £30m price tag burden
Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov has spoken of being haunted by the price tag which made him the team's most expensive player and revealed the "dark moments" which he has experienced amid his struggle to gain universal recognition at Old Trafford.
Berbatov's hat-trick against Liverpool last Sunday cemented a start to the season in which he has shown far more physical determination and operated further up the field as a more traditional striker. Ahead of tomorrow's visit to Bolton, the 29-year-old made an eloquent defence of his own interpretation of the striker's role. "Sometimes you get players who are blinkered like horses, can only see straight ahead, and when they turn, their whole heads turn, but then there are other players who have [peripheral] vision," he said. "Without even looking left or right they know what to do, what to do with the ball. And I like those kind of players. I try to be like that. It's all about imagination on the pitch and trying to enjoy yourself."
But the £30.75m acquisition has also spoken of black periods, like last spring when his desperate displays in Wayne Rooney's absence, against Chelsea and Blackburn, raised questions as to where his future lay. "You start thinking, 'Where did I go wrong?' and 'I can do better than that – I've done better than that in some games in the past'," Berbatov said. "You start to underestimate your skill which is not good because I know what I can do," he said. "Every player has periods [of self doubt] in their careers and the main thing to learn is to stay strong because you are going to have dark moments and you need to be strong to get through them.
"You try not to think about [how much a club paid for you]. But sometimes you just can't help it. You start thinking [about the] money and now what's going to happen if you don't prove good enough for that amount of money and you don't score enough goals. It can be bad for your concentration and your skills because it distracts you from the main goal. In the end I just say, 'Relax. Play. You're playing for the biggest club in the world and that's it – nobody can say anything else'."
Berbatov's start to this season has provided an extraordinary contrast to the last. There have been seven goals already, five fewer than his total for the 2009-10 campaign and the 2-2 draw at Fulham is the only game, the Community Shield included, in which he has not scored.
He also articulated his sense of remoteness. "If people don't know me they think I am a strange guy and I am a strange guy, you know," he said. "I keep my close friends with me whenever I can and that's it. I have a difficulty letting someone else into my inner circles." Sir Alex Ferguson suggested yesterday that the Bulgarian could be the 25-goal a season man that he always says a title-challenging side needs. "We have had it with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney last season and others before that," Ferguson said. "You want players who could get a percentage of goals that make the difference. If Dimitar keeps doing that, he's going to be the one this season."
Ferguson has also unexpectedly revealed that Owen Hargreaves is finally back in training. No one expected that kind of statement so soon but Ferguson appears to be bullish about a surprise comeback having seen Hargreaves at Carrington this week. "Because he's been out for so long you have to see whether there's going to be a relapse," the manager said. "That's the first thing on our mind at the moment but having watched him in training yesterday, if he continues that way he's going to give me another selection problem, no question about that."
Ferguson said he was convinced Wayne Rooney's current lack of goals – a single effort from the penalty spot for his club – is a temporary aberration. "Wayne will get his form back, there is no doubt about that," he said. "He just needs to get a couple of goals. That is down to confidence."
Michael Carrick will be missing for tomorrow's midday kick-off but after an injection earlier this month to treat an Achilles problem is ready to begin winning back his first-team place. "It was nothing serious, just one of those niggling little problems you can get with your Achilles, particularly at the start of the season when grounds are firm," Ferguson said.