Manchester United | The curious case of Dimitar Berbatov

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Love him or hate him, Dimitar Berbatov is the closest player Manchester United fans have seen don the famous club colours since the great Eric Cantona.

The enigmatic striker swaggered confidently through the gates at Old Trafford for a cool £30.75million fee back in 2008, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the Bulgarian hitman has been forced to endure the wrath of so many critics.

Berbatov has delivered 56 goals in 144 appearances for Manchester United - a ratio better than a goal every three games, so he has not been a disaster since joining the club by any stretch of the imagination.

Those that idolise him, will point to last season's return of 22 Barclays Premier League goals as a reason to stand by Berbatov - a feat that helped him to the 2010-11 Golden Boot, despite only playing a bit-part role for United in the second-half of the previous campaign.

The same fans will also reminisce fondly about the hat-trick scored against Liverpool back in September 2010 — one of four occasions where Berbatov has finished up with the Manchester United match ball.

But despite his impressive goalscoring record, the talismanic striker has been forced to settle for a fringe role on the periphery of Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team this year, as he continues to feature primarily from the bench.

The fact that Berbatov was omitted from Manchester United's UEFA Champions League final squad to face Barcelona at Wembley back in May, in favour of the much maligned Michael Owen, whose best days are surely behind him, speaks volumes about the player's current Old Trafford standing.

At best, Berbatov can be regarded as the reigning Barclays Premier League champions' fourth-choice striker - behind Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, and Danny Welbeck, who has quickly usurped him in the squad's pecking order.

Accusations of a lazy, self-centred approach have been frequently dispelled by Berbatov's teammates, who have praised the Bulgarian's work-rate and tenacity when leading the front line.

The main problem seems to be his growing reputation as a luxury player, who was initially signed to decide the toughest, most decisive fixtures. However, history has shown us that Berbatov has a tendency to disappear in the bigger games, and consequently has pigeon-holed himself as a player who produces only against weaker opposition.

With just five goals in 25 UEFA Champions League appearances, the so-called myth has proof of something closer to a reality, with four of those strikes coming against the might of Aalborg and Celtic, prior to one against Benfica earlier this season.

Berbatov's contract is set to expire this summer, and although Manchester United have the option to extend the deal by a further 12 months, question marks remain over his future.

Bayern Munich, Anzhi Makhachlala and former club Bayer Leverkusen are all prepared to offer the striker an escape-route out of England, but it remains to be seen whether Ferguson is prepared to agree to a cut-price sale before the transfer window slams shut in less than a week's time.

On one hand, the club will be urged to cut their losses and run - on the other, an automatic renewal would seem the obvious solution. But £5million is a lot of money to shell out in wages for someone who is only going to warm the bench for another year.

It appears that like everything associated with Berbatov, there seems to be no middle ground - he constantly leaves people wanting more. More goals, more effort, more time, and most importantly of all, more defining moments.

Whether those defining moments will be achieved with Manchester United, time will tell, only after January 31 can we start to search for the answer.

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