Dimitar Berbatov exclusive: Man Utd should sign Victor Osimhen over Harry Kane, and why Cristiano Ronaldo deserved more respect during Old Trafford return

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The ex-United striker has weighed in on which No.9 the Red Devils should target this summer as they continue moving on from the Portuguese legend

When Dimitar Berbatov joined Manchester United in 2008, they were Premier League and European champions. He walked into a dressing room containing Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Carlos Tevez, to name just a few.

But after playing his part in United’s dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson and winning two Premier League titles, two League Cups and reaching the Champions League final twice, the Bulgarian is not overly impressed by the team’s achievements this season.

Erik ten Hag has delivered the Carabao Cup, taken United to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the quarter-finals of the Europa League, facing Sevilla in Thursday’s second leg after a thrilling 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last week.

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The Red Devils are on track to finish in the top-four and return to the Champions League. But it is not nearly enough for Berbatov.

  1. 'They need to fight for the big things'

    'They need to fight for the big things'

    “Is it crazy? In my mind United should be fighting for the top spot, like back in the day,” Berbatov, speaking on behalf of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, tells GOAL.

    “Obviously times have changed, the power in football has shifted. But for United, this should not be qualified as this big success. They need to fight for the big things again and again.”

    For Berbatov, United’s late capitulation against Sevilla showed how far they still need to come under Ten Hag.

    “When I speak with people and tell them stories about my time at United, the word I'm always saying is concentration. Because this is the word that Sir Alex was telling us just right before we go to the pitch, concentrate until the 90-95 minutes.

    “This is sometimes the problem, the lack of concentration when you are leading 2-0 and you think the game is finished. Well, it's not. It's not when you play someone like Sevilla.”

  2. The search for a striker
    Getty Images

    The search for a striker

    Berbatov, who scored 56 goals in 149 appearances for United, has little doubt about what Ten Hag's side are missing in order to take the next step and return to challenging for the biggest trophies.

    “I think they need a centre forward. Someone who can bring goals,” he says. “You buy some centre forward and you say this is the guy who's bringing 25 goals. They need someone like this. They need to go and look for a class goalscorer.”

    Since Ronaldo left, United have missed a big presence in the box. Although he is now back at full fitness, Anthony Martial has struggled with injuries throughout the season. Loan signing Wout Weghorst, meanwhile, has scored only two goals.

  3. Is Kane the answer?

    Is Kane the answer?

    Berbatov becomes animated when Harry Kane is suggested as United’s solution, although he does not think the England captain, who turns 30 in July, will leave Tottenham.

    “You cannot argue with the goalscoring record of Harry Kane. He is one of the best of his generation in how he scores goals, how he plays the game, how he sees the game. And he's unbelievable,” he says.

    “But the one concern I have is that age, he is [almost] 30 so nobody's getting any younger. And in my mind this is going to be a major concern if someone is going to buy him.

    “I think that he's going to stay at Spurs, because in my mind his legacy is too big for Spurs. He’s [top] goalscorer of all time, he’s [top] goalscorer for England as well. He's a captain.

    "When you say Spurs, the first thing on my mind is Harry Kane. So that legacy, it's just too big for him to tarnish. If he goes to a different club, I don't think anybody connected with Spurs will be happy. Everybody will be angry.”

  4. Osimhen is the top choice

    Osimhen is the top choice

    Having counted out Kane, Berbatov volunteers his top choice for United: Victor Osimhen.

    The Nigerian has scored 21 Serie A goals this season and spearheaded Napoli’s charge towards a first title since 1990. And he is still 24, with his best years ahead of him.

    “It's so difficult because you need someone who's going to score goals. Someone who's going to be the right age so he can develop and get better and better and better. So you have to use him for years to come. In my mind, that is Osimhen,” Berbatov says.

    “He's having an unbelievable season and he's doing great stuff. So this is the type of player I’d like to see for United.”

  5. 'Ronaldo deserved more respect'

    'Ronaldo deserved more respect'

    Berbatov is keen to stress, however, that buying a top striker does not mean he will fit right into United. Which leads us to Ronaldo’s ill-fated return to the club in 2021.

    For Berbatov, the Ronaldo saga, which led to the Portuguese leaving the club in acrimonious circumstances last November, was a case of bad management.

    “I don't think it was a mistake, because in the first season he scored many goals. In my mind, that story was about misunderstanding, miscommunication and not showing enough respect on both sides. When you have someone of the stature of Ronaldo, who is a living legend in football, you need to show them respect,” he says.

    “You need to speak with him constantly. If he doesn't play, you need to tell him and explain why you're not playing him. He needs to feel special because he is special.

    "These types of players, they have earned that status in football, and you need to know that and when you don't show it then things like this will happen.”

  6. Antony: 'Simplicity is genius'

    Antony: 'Simplicity is genius'

    Berbatov is speaking to GOAL two days after United’s 2-0 victory at Nottingham Forest, a game in which Antony finally demonstrated why the club paid £85 million for him and why he is so highly valued by Ten Hag, who worked with him at Ajax.

    “We are all humans, we all want results straight away. But sometimes you need time to adjust to a different league, to a different club, to a different way of playing footbalI,” Berbatov says.

    “I would like to see Antony play exactly as he played against Nottingham Forest. And that pass he gave Diogo Dalot, this is football. This is how you should play football, pass the ball on the ground in between the defenders. This was the best moment in that match for me.

    “I don't think he has a lack of confidence. But this should give him even more confidence to go forward and believe in himself, because he's a great talent. He doesn't need to do many tricks on the ball, sometimes just keep it simple. Sometimes the simplicity is genius, like that pass.”

  7. 'Sancho can produce much better'

    'Sancho can produce much better'

    Another player who is still trying to find their feet at United is Jadon Sancho. The winger has shown only flashes of the player he was at Borussia Dortmund in his two years at Old Trafford, and Berbatov cannot put his finger on why it is not working out.

    “Why is it not happening? He needs to give the answers too. He's a talent and he has the dribbling ability, the tricks in the bag, the speed, he can score and pass as well. What is missing? This is something they need to figure out in the training ground. Sancho himself needs to see, to work on what is missing.

    “I’d like him to stay because, in my mind, he can produce much, much better. With him [Sancho] on the left and Antony on the right you have speed, you have [Marcus] Rashford, you have Martial, this is a talent pool.”

  8. Third time lucky

    Third time lucky

    Berbatov can attest to taking time to gel at a new team. Even though he had two strong seasons at United, it was only in the 2010-11 campaign, his third, when he exploded into life, scoring a hat-trick against Liverpool and five goals against Blackburn. He ended the season as top scorer in the Premier League with 20 goals.

    “That's a great example. Because he’s [Sancho] in his second season and I have my best in my third one. So let's hope that the third one will be his best one yet,” Berbatov says.

    “There is no particular reason. I think some players need a bit more time, others not so much. With some of them it’s not working out, even if you stay for five years. I don't have the answer. It just happened to me in that period of time. I hope that because we spoke about Sancho that his third season is the lucky one.”

    Dimitar Berbatov and Ben Foster featured in Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s 2022/23 UEFA Europa League campaign content, Mission Masterclass’. You can view episode one in full here