Dimitar Berbatov: 'If someone has great qualities, they don't need effort'

His attitude wins few admirers, but Dimitar Berbatov won't change for Wednesday's big match. He tells Sam Wallace about smoking, his work rate, and why he would rather leave penalties to others

Is it Andy Garcia he looks like? Or is there a touch of the Rudolph Valentinos about Dimitar Berbatov as he makes his way across the dining room of the Manchester United academy for a reluctant interview? Whoever it is, there is definitely the brooding intensity of the moodiest of Hollywood leading men about United's £30m striker.

Berbatov, 28, is the real enigma of United's season, a man whose performances have divided their fans, whose 14 goals are seen as a poor return and whose position in the starting XI against Barcelona in the Champions League final in Rome tomorrow is by no means assured. And, yes, as he walks over to the group of reporters waiting for him, Berbatov – as is his way – takes his own sweet time.

The major criticism of the Bulgarian international? That the bloke just does not even look like he is trying. Certainly not amid the all-action styles of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. But he has an answer for that, delivered as insouciantly as he plays. "You know," he says, "when someone has great qualities sometimes they don't have to put much effort into things. Sometimes the things I do look effortless but it's not like that. It's very difficult, but because of my style of play I make it look easy."

Delivered like the true maestro. What Berbatov is saying is that the things that most footballers find such an effort are as simple to him as scratching his ear or lighting a cigarette. Which takes us on a brief digression: having been photographed off duty with a cigarette in his mouth, is he a smoker? "No, sometimes when you see a picture I just pretend to smoke to make me more of a cool guy."

Already you are getting the picture: Berbatov is about as hard to pin down in conversation as he is when, in his best moments, he gets the ball at his feet and creates the impression that endless time and space are at his disposal. He comes across as something of a tortured soul and his style of self-appraisal is ruthlessly honest. His family history in Bulgaria was tough, and not just because of the relative lack of wealth.

But what about the season so far? He has scored 14 goals compared to 23 last year for Spurs, yet he has finished with the most assists in the team. "Of course I can do a lot better," he says. "But in the end it's only important what the boss is going to say to me, if he is happy or not. If he says he is not, then I need to work to improve so I can be better next season.

"When people see my name they see goals. I need to score more goals even though I don't play in my usual position. It's difficult to say to people that I enjoy making goals. My main aim is to score as many goals as possible and help the team to win the title again next year.

"There is always pressure. I am a realistic type of guy. I am my biggest critic. I know that when United pay a lot of money for a player the expectation will be higher, sometimes it's even ridiculous. I am used to that and I know everyone is expecting even more from me.

"I read in the paper that the most useful guy for the team was me. It made me feel good. I didn't score as many goals as I wanted and people are maybe a little disappointed with that, but in the end I made the most assists. I helped my team-mates to score and I will continue to do that. That's the most important thing for the team because we need to win the league every year."

Neither is he prepared to change his style, saying the only person who can make him do that is the man he refers to simply as "Boss". But Sir Alex Ferguson has a big decision to make before tomorrow night as to whether he picks his usual 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation with Berbatov at the point of the attack or Cristiano Ronaldo or even Tevez. Berbatov knew that even a star as luminous as he is would not be guaranteed a starting place at United.

"I was jealous [at Spurs] because they [United] were lifting every cup in football," he says. "I thought, 'Come on, I just want to be part of this team and feel what it is to lift the cup.' So today I am here and if the boss says, 'OK, Berba, you are going to play,' I will try to give my best."

He does not look very happy on the pitch – is he? "Of course I am enjoying it. It would be stupid if I was laughing all the time. I really enjoy myself. When we won the title I was in the locker room and so happy. I don't smile all the time but I smile inside. I am the happiest guy around, trust me. I don't like to show my emotions too much."

Berbatov has played in a Champions League final before, in 2002 for Bayer Leverkusen, who eliminated United on away goals in the semi-finals before losing 2-1 to Real Madrid in the final. Then 21, he came on in the 39th minute of the final and had a chance to equalise at the end but saw his shot saved by the substitute goalkeeper Iker Casillas. "This memory haunts me," he said. "If I can make it right this time it will be good."

Talking of haunting memories, what about that dreadful penalty against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final shoot-out last month, the one that made it look like he did not care? "I'm not angry because I am my biggest critic," he says. "I know what I did wrong. I go home and try to get over things. Obviously, it's very difficult when you make a mistake and everyone is trying to attack you. You try to be strong.

"It hurt a lot. I am not sure I would take a penalty [in Rome]. Let's hope it's not going to get to that because it's difficult. I am the new guy in the team. When you make a mistake people sometimes go straight for the new guy. I am not sure there are going to be penalties anyway."

In his defence, Berbatov pointed out that his penalty for Spurs against Chelsea in the Carling Cup final last year was identical but that one went in. Mournfully he answers questions about his childhood in Bulgaria. "It's not like I'm the only guy in the world who went through that," he says. "After the Communists were gone it was easier to go out of the country. You need to be a little lucky, work hard and trust yourself. I had so many difficult moments. I know I will have some more but you keep on fighting."

When talk turns to the great Bulgaria team of the 1994 World Cup finals, he is asked what it did for the Bulgarian people. "At last people knew we existed," he replies, glumly. Cheer up, Berba, you might even score the winner tomorrow, but if he does don't expect him to put the cup on his head or take part in any daft celebrations. It is just not his style.

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own