The Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov has defended his languid playing style and, despite being bought for his prowess in front of goal, says he does not want to be remembered only for scoring.
Berbatov was criticised by United fans last season after scoring just 14 goals in all competitions compared to 23 during the previous campaign when he was at Tottenham Hotspur. But the Bulgaria striker, who is rated as one of the most skilful players in the Premier League, has defended his record and believes he contributes more to the team than just goals.
"I want people to remember me as a very good and skilful player. I don't want to be remembered as a top scorer," Berbatov said yesterday. "I've played with strikers with 100 goals, who can't control the ball," he said. "It seems like a three-metre pass when they're trying to control the ball with their feet."
The 28-year-old Bulgaria captain, who boasts a remarkable international scoring record of 41 goals in 68 matches, joined United on the last day of the transfer window last year. He signed a four-year deal at Old Trafford who paid out a club record fee of £30.75 million.
Despite the murmurings of discontent from United fans, Berbatov's agent, Emil Danchev, said there was no possibility of the striker leaving the club. "Despite recent speculation that he may leave, I want to declare that Dimitar will play for Manchester United next season," Danchev said. "He'll stay and we hope he will win what he missed out on this year."
Berbatov helped United clinch the league title in his first season, although he lost out on a Champions League winners' medal when United were beaten by Barcelona in the final.
Berbatov said winning the Premier League was the main target he had set during his first months at Old Trafford. "Yes, it was my No 1 aim," he said. "Probably, I was much more pleased than my team-mates but it was my first title after all. I think it's understandable since Ryan Giggs told me he has 11 championship medals..."
Berbatov also revealed he is in awe of the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, like most of the other squad members. "All the players have a huge respect for him," he said. "You can be tying up your boots but when he begins to talk you just freeze and listen to him. His word is law to us."
The general director of Real Madrid, Jorge Valdano, claims the club are already in negotiations with United over Cristiano Ronaldo. Reports in Spain suggest that new Madrid president, Florentino Perez, has been in talks with the club and is on the verge of breaking Real's own world record transfer, in euros terms, set just a few days ago for Kaka, to bring Ronaldo to the Bernabeu.
Valdano's comments will only serve to add fuel to the speculation that the Spanish giants have intensified their efforts to sign the Portugal winger. "I can't answer any questions about him," he said. "I can only talk about players who are on their way here, not about those we are in negotiations over. He is a great professional, he dedicates a very great deal of time to his work. He is a great footballer and a very good professional."
Ronaldo has been enjoying the close season, spending time in Sardinia and Los Angeles. The 24-year-old obviously enjoys the trappings of his fame, but Valdano insists he is still the perfect player for Real.
"According to the information we have managed to obtain, he is an excellent professional," Valdano said. "You don't get the player's body he has, which is a footballing advertisement, without working a great deal. Another thing is that his reputation as an officially good-looking guy, and a social or advertising model, blurs his image a bit. He is a great footballer."
Speculation has been rife in the Spanish capital about new arrivals ever since the return of Perez, who presided over the famous galacticos era at the club. And while they are reportedly ready to pay €89m (£76m) for Ronaldo, Valdano has revealed they will not break the bank for the Valencia striker David Villa.
"He is an excellent striker but he has a prohibitive price," Valdano said. "He is a player who interests us, but only at a reasonable price. There's a long way to the start of the season and the summer is very long – these comings and goings will be very interesting. They have written about hundreds of players who dream about coming to Real Madrid and it's logical that one of those will end up in the side."