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.

David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments