James Lawton: Berbatov now has one foot in Ferguson's pantheon

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson says "bloody football" and has a pocketful of exhibits to support the proposition. But who would have thought that by the end of this season – and maybe his 12th winning Premier League title campaign – they would include the resurrection of Dimitar Berbatov?

In bloody football there are no guarantees, of course, and the manager of Manchester United is scarcely unfamiliar with the fact.

Last March, Wayne Rooney was a phenomenon, the last of the street footballers and halfway to justifying the early claim of the hard-headed football man John Giles that he had the potential to be one of the greatest in history. Now Ferguson yanks him off the field at critical moments with impunity in favour of the hotter scoring touch of "Chicharito" Hernandez.

Yes, of course, Rooney may well come again – we know that because he can still show a touch that makes almost everyone else on the field look as if they are painting by numbers – but if you are Ferguson now there is no question about the franchise player, the man who can keep United a long nose at least in front of the pack.

Centre-back Nemanja Vidic is the pillar, and probably the shoo-in player of the year, but from Berbatov United are at last getting the steady light of an outstanding striker.

The man, who on the last day of a summer transfer window in 2008 seemed to provoke Ferguson into an acquisitive frenzy so strong that it appeared entirely possible that he might even beat down the doors of White Hart Lane, has finally come good at Old Trafford.

But then how good? Can he inflict himself, for example, in what may well be the mano-a-mano of the campaign when Chelsea twice meet United in an effort, who knows, to redeem a season that might just still be alive?

Certainly Berbatov v Didier Drogba is a potentially classic square-off; Drogba oozing strength, with the malarial shakes hopefully consigned to the past, and relishing an old power to intimidate, Berbatov ghosting in with an assassin's stealth.

We will never know for sure quite how close Ferguson came to giving up on Berbatov at the end of a dismal last season. His exclusion from both the Champions League quarter-final games against Bayern Munich, with Rooney badly winged in the first tie in Germany, was hardly an endorsement but we are not likely to know now because the 29-year-old Bulgarian has at last half-performed the trick for which Ferguson committed £30m.

He has at least one foot in the pantheon of Ferguson signings who, sooner or later, have not only shown value for money but also transformed the club's horizons. Of course reaching out for such a dimension will always be hazardous.

Juan Sebastian Veron was a sore disappointment; he had a beautiful talent but it wasn't compatible with the Premier League. Laurent Blanc was a giant of a player but Ferguson had to concede that he had come too late.

Berbatov, undoubtedly, was heading for such company but then when you have committed yourself so heavily you are in no hurry to lose your nerve.

Ferguson saw the movement of Berbatov and remembered his pedigree (now 162 goals in 357 games for CSKA Sofia, Bayer Leverkusen, Spurs and United) and decided to keep his faith. His reward is 19 Premier League goals – a life-giving surge in a hugely pivotal season. Then there is the priceless one that keeps you going. It is the old possibility that, in the end, you just might have got it perfectly right.



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