Rarely one to bust a gut chasing a lost cause or put himself about using his physical prowess, you’d think Dimitar Berbatov wouldn’t have lasted that long in English football.
But the Bulgarian made defences quake throughout his eight years as a Premier League player thanks to his best feature – improvisation.
The former striker would’ve enjoyed a Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo era of dominance if ‘walking football’ had a Ballon d’Or award.
He didn’t get to those heights in real football, but the way he played at what times looked like a snail’s pace just worked.
His body appeared to be moving slower than others but his mind was working overtime, enabling him to produce some magic moments, especially at Manchester United.
Berbatov tells talkSPORT he looks back at signing for the Red Devils as the pinnacle of his career as it was the ultimate reward for his years of hard work.
The ‘Berba Spin’ came through improvisation as he got himself out of a blind alley by leaving West Ham defender James Collins for dead before setting up Cristiano Ronaldo for an easy goal. However, he was preparing to pull off a move like that at home.
Berbatov, a Betfair ambassador, told talkSPORT: “The pass to Ronaldo where I invented the ‘Berba spin’… That was a great moment because I liked to assist more than scoring from time to time – I don’t know why.
“I first tried it at home. I always tried to do something special whether it was inventing something or tricks – but on things that actually work – not to show off but to implement in the game.
“I was running after the ball and it came automatically. I was thinking what to do in the space of five seconds and because my game was about improvisation then it was more easy for my body to come up with a solution.
“It’s something I’m very proud of because when I did the spin I could hear the crowd go ‘woah’… that made my day. It would’ve made my day even if there wasn’t a goal at the end.”
Goals were a big part of Berbatov’s game too and his favourite came in a 3-2 win over rivals Liverpool in a captivating contest at Old Trafford.
Berbatov got a hat-trick that day but his second was the one everyone talks about. He killed a looping cross from the right with his thigh before hooking the ball in-off the crossbar with his back to goal. Again, his ability to improvise was why it went in.
He added: “I have favourite goals, the bicycle kick against Liverpool, people still remind me of that.
“In the space of 1-5 seconds you need to improvise and think of something… it’s around these type of situations where you need to come up with solutions and improvise.
“In that situation I was going to be controlling the ball and I wanted to try to do something different.”
But perhaps the most Berbatov goal of them all came a little later in the 2010/11 campaign in a lower key match against Blackburn.
Berbatov was on a rampage that afternoon with five goals but his hat-trick goal was the pick of the bunch.
It all started deep in Man United’s half with Berbatov playing a simple five-yard pass to Patrice Evra. Evra returned it to him before receiving it again thanks to the Frenchman’s movement and Berbatov’s clever flick behind.
It seemed Berbatov had made his final contribution to the promising attack as his raking pass to Nani from the half way line got Man United in the final third.
A few seconds later Berbatov comes back into the picture ambling into the box while Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park wait for the cross – Berbatov was the one to get the goal though.
Berbatov said: “It was a very good goal. I like that goal because it shows intelligence, it shows you don’t need to sprint like crazy around the pitch to impress someone, you just need to think with your head and be at the right moment at the right time.
“But you need to calculate and read the game one or two steps ahead because in that move I didn’t sweat, I was just calculating where everyone was on the pitch, adjusting my position according to where every one was moving… and then the ball ended up with me and I scored.
“This is what football is sometimes about. You don’t need to run like crazy, impressing people – think! It starts there.”
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