Berbatov winning over fans

MANCHESTER - Dimitar Berbatov sat on top of the Premier League scoring table on Monday to go some way to settling the genius-or-flop debate that has raged around him since arriving at Manchester United two years ago.

Fans who wondered if they could get their money back on a 30-million-pound purchase, have finally been won over by Berbatov's six league goals in five games and gave him a standing ovation after his first United hat-trick on Sunday.

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Berbatov's problem has been in being rated in terms of goals scored and work rate. There is no table ranking exquisite touches, clever flicks and ability to read the game and it is these unquantifiable qualities that characterise the Bulgarian.

Now seeing him on top of the scoring charts, joint with Chelsea's Florent Malouda, fans have a yardstick to measure with and are no longer calling him "lazy" when he strolls for much of the game.

Berbatov is well on track to beat the 12 league goals he scored last season and nine the year before and although he now conforms to strike rate expectations of forwards, goals like Sunday's wonder overhead strike are unconventional and special.

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson called that goal "a little bit of genius" after Berbatov became the first United player to score a hat-trick against the Merseyside club in 64 years.

Once nicknamed the 'Incredible Sulk' by the British tabloids, Berbatov was all smiles on Sunday but with a high dose of the nonchalance he displays on the pitch.

"I am nothing special," Berbatov, whose skills have drawn comparisons with former United favourite Eric Cantona, told MUTV after the 3-2 win.

"I'm going home to play with my kids. Tomorrow is another day and next Sunday we have another game. That's it."

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, as if seeing into a crystal ball, had predicted "plenty more to come from the re-energised Dimitar Berbatov this season" in match programme notes, while captain Nemanja Vidic has tipped the brooding striker to shine.

"The ability he has and plus when he scores the goals, definitely he could be player of the year," Vidic told the BBC.


Berbatov had been widely reported to be leaving United at the end of last season and Ferguson said the fact he had been made a whipping boy must have made him consider his future.

After retiring from international football in May, he faced jokes that he had already retired from club football.

Those jibes seemed to have given him a note of caution about his dream start to the season.

"It is probably one of my best games for United but I don't want it to be my last so I will keep working and hopefully I will improve on the things I try to do," he said.

If he needs a reminder of how quickly "genius" can turn to "useless" among fickle fans and media he need only read Monday's newspapers where Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is tasting the other end of the spectrum after a poor start to the season.