Dimitar Berbatov thinks former side Manchester United can win this season's UEFA Europa League: "They should be in the top one."
Article top media content
Former Tottenham and Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov reflects on his career, his well-honed deftness of touch, his admiration for Alan Shearer and his old side's chances of lifting the UEFA Europa League trophy again this season.
Berbatov was speaking to Enterprise Rent-A-Car ahead of the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
On his ambition to be a footballer
From the start, it was football and nothing else. My dad was a footballer, so it was normal for me and my brother to follow in his footsteps. Nothing else was in my head, just becoming a footballer. When I look back now, I achieved my dream and I was in love with what I was doing: playing football.
On his style as a player
From an early age, I was obsessed with controlling the ball. I don't know why – nobody told me to do that. I just knew I needed to do it, so that's why I was constantly trying to improvise: how I stopped the ball, how I kicked the ball, how I passed the ball. Probably people will know and remember that my first touch was really good, and I'm really proud of it.
If you know how to stop the ball the right way, you're going to have more chance of a good attack, of a good pass, of good finishing. Everything will be good after that first touch. If somebody doesn't know how I used to play, just put on some YouTube videos and you'll find out!
On his football idols
It always starts with your dad and I was no exception. Then I started to look up to Hristo Stoichkov because he's one of our icons in Bulgarian football. And then, of course, I had [Marco] Van Basten and Alan Shearer. Van Basten [would] dance on the pitch – I used to copy some of his movement.
Shearer was completely different because he [would] bully people, elbows left and right, and he [would] shoot the ball from all distances – either way, the ball was going into the back of the net. When I raised my hand, it was a tribute to Shearer because that's how he used to celebrate his goals.
On Europa League memories
I remember scoring a lot of goals in my first season [with Tottenham, in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup]. It was a great start for me in my life in England, and my partnership with Robbie Keane was great – we complemented each other so well. And because of this, I was able to score goals, make assists, help my team. We had a great run in that competition [to the quarter-finals].
On joining Manchester United
It's a privilege and an honour. It's something I'd been dreaming about for so long. I was proud because I was waiting for something like this since I knew how many sacrifices I'd made in my career. I had been patient enough to wait for something like this. I was excited, nervous, all of these emotions going through my head. I knew this was my final step to reaching my personal peak.
On playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo
I always tell young players now, especially in our country [Bulgaria], because everybody is trying to watch and imitate him in a way – his hair, how he celebrates, all this stuff – but I always used to tell them: "Listen: behind all of this there's a lot of work."
I was fortunate enough to play and train with him for one year – I don't remember him missing one session. Rain, snow, he was always on the pitch, always trying to practise, to improvise, to make himself even better. We all see what he became, one of the best ever, but it's not only talent but hard work, dedication, motivation, personal ambition.
On working under Sir Alex Ferguson
I think it was a constant evolution of learning, because he knew how to speak with everyone in a different way. Everybody is different, everybody is proud in his own way, everybody has his own ego. Someone will need a slap on the back of the head; someone will need a hug; someone will need a kiss, a good word or a strong word. You need to know how to touch them in such a way that you can motivate them enough to perform for the team.
On United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær
I think they're performing, especially this season, on the right path to success, but this is a process. It's a process for the long run. Ole is in charge and I think he has his own plan. At the end of the day, what is most important for a team like United are the trophies. It's been so long now since United won the Premier League – hopefully this is going to be on the cards soon because, for me, United should be in the top one.
On United's Europa League chances
They've done it in the past. They have the experience to do it, they know how to do it. United, on paper, are the favourites and I think they can win it. If they win it, that will be a successful season in my opinion.
To read more about Enterprise's partnership with the UEFA Europa League, click here.