Bulgarian international Dimitar Berbatov has polarised opinion throughout his time in England, firstly at Tottenham Hotspur and then with Manchester United.
Mercurial striker or lazy forward? Maverick talent or waste of time?
These are questions that Premier League fans often find themselves asking about Berbatov, an undoubted talent with potential to turn defenders inside out in the blink of an eye.
And yet the 31-year-old is a huge source of frustration, appearing to give little in the way of effort and rarely tracking back. Catch him on the wrong day, and your wasting your time.
Catch him on the right day, however, and you have a player who justifies the £30 million paid by Manchester United back in 2008.
During his two full seasons at White Hart Lane, Berbatov hit double figures twice in the Premier League, and 46 goals in all competitions. A firm fans favourite, Spurs were desperate to keep hold of the player before his move on September 1st, 2008.
His goal return at Old Trafford has also been solid, notching nine and then 12 goals in his first two years under Sir Alex Ferguson. In 2010-11, he then scored 20 goals to share the Premier League Golden Boot with Carlos Tevez.
However, the emergence of Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck meant first team football was no longer guaranteed, and his involvement for the Red Devils plummeted last season, featuring in just 12 league games.
"At 31, he is looking at first-team football. It is difficult for me to guarantee that so it could lead to him looking elsewhere," noted manager Sir Alex Ferguson in March.
Despite scoring seven goals in those 12 games, Berbatov could not force his way into the manager’s thinking on a regular basis, and as the Scot predicted, is looking for a route out of the club.
“I love this club, but I am not going to be useful to anyone if I am not playing. I want to play, I want to help,” he wrote on his official Facebook page.
“But, for unknown reasons it’s not going to happen, or my chances will be limited, so it's better for everyone if we say goodbye.
“If not, I am professional and I will keep doing everything I can, to help my team and my teammates, whenever I have opportunity to do so.”
Berbatov also revealed that Ferguson is willing to let him leave for £5 million in the summer transfer window, opening the door for literally every Premier League club should they wish to pursue the player.
So, where might the former CSKA Sofia star end up, and which club would best utilise the striker’s skills?
A move to Manchester City seems the least likely of possibilities, and Ferguson would not want to deal with the Citizens for any player, irrespective of his lack of value to the club.
Having signed two strikers already this summer, Arsenal are unlikely to want another, although Berbatov would add proven Premier League ability at the Emirates.
Under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea appear to be building for the future, and his age might work against him. However, Didier Drogba’s exit and a lack of a striker signing means Berbatov could be a possible fit.
How about Spurs, and a return to the Lane? It would be well received by the fans, but the track record of manager Andre Villas-Boas suggests he’ll be looking elsewhere first.
Liverpool are also likely to be a no, as Berbatov wouldn’t fit into the style that Brendan Rodgers is expected to employ at Anfield. Whether United would be willing to deal with the Reds is another possible issue.
Outside this ‘big five’, it’s difficult to see why any club in the English top flight would turn down the chance to pursue a player like Berbatov.
Everton, so often the team that looks most likely to burst the elite bubble at the top of the table, would gain a quality striker without spending beyond their means with regards to the transfer fee at least. Player salary could be a different discussion.
Newcastle United – a club Berbatov supported as a boy – have been chasing Andy Carroll in recent weeks, and are in the market for a striker. Is there better value anywhere than £5m for the Bulgarian?
Aston Villa are over reliant on Darren Bent and could use a foil with experience, whilst Fulham aren’t flush with strikers despite the recent addition of Hugo Rodallega.
Promoted clubs like Reading, West Ham and Southampton would dream of a striker with Berbatov’s pedigree, although contract negotiations could be too much for all the new-boys.
Martin O’Neill is known for getting the best out of players – if he could get Berbatov to deliver the goods every game, it would be one of his greatest achievements.
Norwich, Swansea, Wigan and West Brom might lack the glamour that the former Bayer Leverkusen star will be looking for, whilst QPR and Stoke would have to do some great work behind the scenes to secure the player’s services.
So where do you think Berbatov will end up playing next season? Have your say below…
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