Nearly every Manchester United manager has enjoyed a vast array of talent at their disposal, with some having a greater impact than others. Whether it be Zlatan Ibrahimović under Jose Mourinho, Angel Di Maria under Louis Van Gaal, or now Cristiano Ronaldo under Ralf Rangnick, United have a history of attracting the best in class.
But one player who is perhaps regarded as the ultimate ‘luxury’ player is Dimitar Berbatov. Effortless brilliance with minimal work rate- was Berbatov’s style of him.
While the striker perhaps didn’t do the hard running of others, Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad was littered with players whose work rate made up for him. Wayne Rooney, Ji-Sung Park, and Darren Fletcher were among the crop of players who played alongside Berbatov at the time, and the effort of his United teammates provided the Bulgarian with a platform to showcase his talent.
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In four seasons at the club, Berbatov scored 56 goals in 149 appearances in all competitions — including a memorable and sublime hat-trick against Liverpool. The Bulgarian’s most prolific season for the club was in 2010/11, averaging a goal every other game with a tally of 21 goals in 42 matches and tying with former United striker Carlos Tevez (by then a Manchester City player) for the Premier League golden boot.
But now in 2022, nine years on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, United cannot afford to have players like Berbatov.
Speaking in a recent debate on MUTV, however, the Bulgarian give support to Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored vital goals despite criticism of his work rate — much in the way his own style was picked apart by some pundits. He said: “Cristiano Ronaldo still can score goals and I’m pleased with everything he’s doing so far.”
The Portuguese striker has scored 18 goals in all competitions for United so far this term, with 12 coming in the Premier League. But he’s been deemed an unnecessary luxury player that United cannot carry. Paul Pogba is another who has been bracketed with the same term.
Pogba has played under four different managers at United, but none of them have been able to extract consistent performances out of the French World Cup winner. United’s no.6 started the season in blistering form, assisting seven times in the first four Premier League fixtures, but has struggled to make an impact since returning from injury in February.
United are battling to finish in the top-four of the Premier League, and given the form of Tottenham and Arsenal, their hopes look slim.
Rangnick’s side has been outworked and outfought two weeks in a row — in last week’s draw with Leicester and Saturday’s defeat at Everton. Talent can only go so far without work rate, and so Rangnick and his likely successor Erik ten Hag might have to look elsewhere, rather than hope luxuries like Ronaldo and Pogba can come off.
The focus must be on hard work, and the collective.
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