Dimitar Berbatov: Elegant Bulgarian Master

Dimitar Berbatov: Elegant Bulgarian Master

Player Profile

Date of Birth: 30 January 1981

Height: 1.89 m (6 ft 2 in)

Position: Striker

National Team: Bulgaria

International Caps: 78

International Goals: 48

Club Career

Dimitar Berbatov was born in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, on 30 January 1981. He started his youth career with hometown club Pirin Blagoevgrad, where he scored 77 goals in 92 appearances for their reserve team.

He was scouted by CSKA Sofia and signed his first professional contract with the Bulgarian heavyweights at 17-years-old in 1998. Berbatov marked his debut season with six goals and won the first piece of silverware of his career when The Reds defeated Litex Lovech in the Bulgarian Cup final.

CSKA Sofia lost the core of its team during the 1999 summer transfer window and Berbatov became one of their most important players at the turn of the century. He scored a staggering 16 goals in 15 appearances in all competitions during the opening four months of the 2000/01 campaign, which ultimately secured him a lucrative move to German side Bayer Leverkusen in January 2001.

Berti Vogts gave Berbatov limited opportunities in the first team when he arrived from Bulgaria. He was reduced to just six appearances in total, in which he failed to score a single goal. Klaus Toppmoller succeeded Vogts in June 2001 and inspired Bayer Leverkusen to an extraordinary season.

Bayer Leverkusen finished runners-up in the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and UEFA Champions League in 2002. Berbatov scored 16 goals in 41 games in all competitions – averaging a goal every 118 minutes in the Bundesliga.

Veteran forward Ulf Kirsten retired from professional football in 2003 and newly-appointed manager Klaus Augenthaler trusted Berbatov as the first-choice striker. He repaid Augenthaler for his faith by scoring 19 goals in 36 games. The Bulgarian hitman went from strength to strength scoring a total of 50 goals in all competitions over the following two seasons.

In July 2006, Tottenham Hotspur paid £10.9 million to make Berbatov the most expensive Bulgarian of all-time and he enjoyed two phenomenal seasons at White Hart Lane.

In his first campaign with the club he was voted Player of the Season and named in the PFA Team of the Year after scoring 23 goals and making 10 assists in all competitions. He forged a telepathic partnership with Republic of Ireland international Robbie Keane and the duo scored a combined total of 45 goals.

The 2008/09 season was perhaps the most enjoyable season for him from an individual perspective. The striker scored his first Premier League hat-trick in December, when he netted four goals in a 6-4 win against Reading. Later in the season he lifted his first piece of silverware in England, when his side defeated Chelsea in the League Cup final.

Didier Drogba broke the deadlock inside 38 minutes to send Chelsea into the half-time interval with the advantage. But with 20 minutes remaining, Wayne Bridge was penalized for handling the ball inside the penalty area and Berbatov showed ice-cold composure to equalize from the penalty-spot. Jonathan Woodgate scored the decisive goal on 94 minutes to end Spurs’ nine-year wait for silverware.

Manchester United were the frontrunners in the race to sign Dimitar Berbatov during the 2009 summer transfer window, although Manchester City and Real Madrid were also reportedly interested. Spurs initially accepted a bid from The Citizens but United paid £30.75 million on 1 September 2008 to win the race for his signature.

Alex Ferguson proclaimed: “This is a key signing. Dimitar is one of the best and most exciting strikers in world football. His style and ability will give the team a different dimension and I’m sure he will be a popular player with the fans.”

In his first season, the Red Devils won a third consecutive Premier League title and also added the FIFA Club World Cup and League Cup to their trophy cabinet. Berbatov missed his spot-kick as Manchester United lost 4-2 to Everton in the semi-final of the FA Cup and he also played 24 minutes in their 2-0 defeat against FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final.

Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford in the 2009 summer transfer window for Manchester City and Real Madrid respectively and Berbatov was one of the players expected to fill the void. However, Berbatov came under scrutiny from the sections of the United supporters as Chelsea won a domestic double and Bayern Munich condemned them to a quarter-final exit in Europe.

Berbatov had failed to reach the same heights at Old Trafford but Ferguson quashed the rumours surrounding his future. He proved his critics wrong during the 2010/11 season and enjoyed perhaps his most successful season in England.

He finished joint-top goal scorer with former teammate Carlos Tevez on 20 goals and produced unforgettable performances against Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers. Berbatov became the first United player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool since 1964 in a 3-2 win in September 2010. He then became the first non-Englishman to score five goals in a single Premier League match in a 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers in December 2010.

As well as winning their fourth Premier League title in five seasons, Manchester United also reached their third Champions League final in three seasons. But Alex Ferguson controversially omitted Berbatov from the squad as Barcelona completely outplayed United in a 3-1 win at Wembley Stadium. 

Berbatov endured his worst season at Old Trafford during the 2011/12 season, finding the net just 9 times in 21 appearances in all competitions. Ferguson signed Robin van Persie from Arsenal after his side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to local rivals Manchester City and Berbatov was sold to Fulham in the 2012 summer transfer window.

In four seasons at the club, Berbatov finished his spell at Manchester United with 56 goals in 149 appearances and won six major trophies, including 2 Premier League titles in 2009 and 2011.

Fulham presented him with an opportunity to relaunch his career and Berbatov revived his form during his debut season at Craven Cottage. He scored 15 league goals for the Cottagers and was instrumental in guiding them to a 12th place finish.

But the Bulgarian failed to maintain his form during the 2013/14 season and left the club with them embroiled in a relegation dogfight. He joined AS Monaco in January 2014 as a replacement for the injured Radamel Falcao and initially became a favourite among supporters by scoring 9 goals in 15 appearances.

His second season was much less successful and Berbatov subsequently began to verge closer to the end of his career. He spent brief spells in Greece and India with PAOK and Kerala Blasters before announcing his retirement from the game in September 2019.

Dimitar Berbatov was one of the most effortlessly talented forwards of his generation. He had a dangerous instinct inside the penalty area and a propensity to innovate under pressure. His casualness and subtlety in possession made him an unpredictable opponent and he forged a phenomenal career in both the Bundesliga and Premier League with Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United respectively.

He finished his 19-year playing career with 281 goals in 665 appearances – winning 8 major trophies in the process.

International Career

Berbatov represented Bulgaria at U18 and U21 level and scored 2 goals for the former and 3 goals for the latter before being called into the senior side. He made his international debut in a 1-0 defeat against Greece in November 1999 at just 18 years of age and opened his goal scoring account against Chile in February 2000.

Bulgaria topped their Euro 2004 qualifying group ahead of Croatia, Belgium, Estonia and Andorra, qualifying for their first major international tournament since 1998. Berbatov was instrumental along with Celtic midfielder Stiliyan Petrov in helping guide Bulgaria to the finals in Portugal.

He scored five goals across the qualification rounds, including an invaluable brace in a 3-0 win against Andorra which booked their ticket to Euro 2004. At the tournament, however, Bulgaria lost all three games, to finish rock-bottom of their group.

They opened the tournament with a debilitating 5-0 defeat against Sweden and their 2-0 defeat against Denmark confirmed their elimination. Despite having little to play for, Bulgaria took a surprise lead when Martin Petrov converted his spot-kick on the cusp of half-time, but the Italians mounted a comeback to condemn Bulgaria to a third successive defeat.

Berbatov never played at another major international competition in his career after Euro 2004 but he did captain his country for four years between 2006 and 2010. In November 2009, he scored a brace against Malta to surpass Hristo Bonev to become Bulgaria’s all-time top goal scorer.

In May 2010, Berbatov announced his retirement from international football, after scoring 48 goals in 78 caps. There was rumours that he may come out of international retirement in February 2012 but he later reconfirmed his retirement from international duty just seven months later. 

Where Is Dimitar Berbatov Now?

Berbatov made his acting debut in a Bulgarian film called Revolution X, which was released in May 2018, playing the character of Caravaggio. He’s also been a guest pundit on Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime in the UK. 

Did You Know? Interesting facts about Dimitar Berbatov

– Berbatov played in two UEFA Champions League finals, but never won the competition.

– He was voted Bulgarian Football of the Year on a record seven occasions.

– In December 2009, Berbatov revealed he was kidnapped whilst playing for CSKA Sofia. He was saved by his father, who negotiated a settlement with the local mafia boss.