Berbatov abuzz again

Berbatov was in demand, with a host of clubs in Europe keen to secure his services, but the former Tottenham Hotspur player opted to return to London and appears to be enjoying his football again. The enigmatic front-man has scored five times for the Cottagers and has caught the eye with some lovely touches and intelligent link-up play. By Pete Thompson.

Dimitar Berbatov has been given a new lease of life at Fulham and the Bulgarian striker is proving to be one of the signings of the summer.

The 31-year-old left Manchester United to return to London in a GBP5million move at the end of August and he looks very much at home at Craven Cottage. Berbatov spent almost four years at Old Trafford in which time he won two English Premier League titles, the League Cup, the Community Shield twice and the FIFA Club World Cup.

He became frustrated with a lack of first-team football last season, though, and it was no surprise when he opted to leave the club in the summer.

Berbatov was in demand, with a host of clubs in Europe keen to secure his services, but the former Tottenham Hotspur player opted to return to London and appears to be enjoying his football again. The enigmatic front-man has scored five times for the Cottagers and has caught the eye with some lovely touches and intelligent link-up play.

Berbatov modelled himself on Holland legend Marco van Basten during his youth and he also idolised Alan Shearer, the former England and Newcastle striker.

It was during his time with hometown club Pirin Blagoevgrad that Berbatov’s talent was spotted as his prolific goal-scoring form caught the eye of CSKA Sofia — the club which his father played for.

The naturally gifted striker signed his first professional contract with CSKA and made his debut for the club at the age of 18 during the 1998-99 campaign.

He scored 14 goals in 27 league games the following season and such were his talents that he was kidnapped after training by three henchmen of gangster Georgi Iliev, who was believed to want the young player to sign for his club, Levski Kjustendil.

“That’s true,” Berbatov said when asked about the incident. “It was a horrific ordeal but a long time ago now. That was a time back then, you know.”

Berbatov, whose mother was a professional handball player, remained with CSKA and was on the verge of joining Italian club Lecce in June 2000 but the move fell through. He made his debut for Bulgaria at the age of 18 and was billed as a star of the future.

After an impressive start to the 2000/01 season it came as no surprise when Berbatov was on the move as German outfit Bayer Leverkusen signed him on a four-year deal. He was used mainly as a substitute initially, but scored 16 goals in his first full season at the club and reached the final of the UEFA Champions League.

Berbatov came off the bench as Bayer were beaten by Real Madrid in the final and they were also beaten in the DFB–Pokal final as well as finishing runners-up in the Bundesliga. He went on to become Bayer’s talisman, finding the back of the net consistently which led to him being linked with several clubs across Europe.

Berbatov was on the move again in May 2006 as Tottenham won the race for his signature for a fee of around GBP11 million, the biggest ever fee for a Bulgarian footballer.

He took some time to settle in the EPL, but with instant control, silky skills and an eye for goal, Berbatov became a fans’ favourite at White Hart Lane.

In the 2006/07 campaign he found the back of the net 12 times in the EPL and won Spurs’ Player of the Season award and a place in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year.

He scored a penalty as Tottenham beat London rivals Chelsea in the League Cup final in February 2008 and the following season United boss Sir Alex Ferguson upset Spurs by declaring his interest in the talented striker. Ferguson got his man in September 2008 for a huge fee of GBP30 million on a four-year deal and he went on to be a success after another unconvincing start at his new club.

In May 2010 Berbatov retired from international football after captaining his country for four years, with an impressive record of 48 goals in 77 appearances.

After scoring 48 goals in over 100 appearances for United and becoming the first Bulgarian to win an EPL title, Berbatov left the club after much speculation this summer. Juventus were just one of a number of top European clubs that were linked with the experienced front-man, but he opted to return to London with the Cottagers.

Berbatov has a steady girlfriend called Elena and a three-year-old daughter named Dea. He has been spotted driving a Mercedes and a Bentley.

FACTFILE

THE PLAYER: Dimitar Berbatov POSITION: Striker CLUB: Fulham DOB: 30/01/1981 INTERNATIONAL CAPS: 77 INTERNATIONAL GOALS: 48 MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Scoring five goals for Manchester United in an EPL clash with Blackburn in November 2010. MOMENT TO FORGET: Losing the UEFA Champions League final while playing for Bayer Leverkusen against Real Madrid in 2002.

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