Dimitar Berbatov chose the perfect moment to finally endear himself to the Old Trafford crowd on Sunday with a superb hat-trick that earned Manchester United a much-needed 3-2 victory over fierce rivals Liverpool.
The mercurial Bulgarian, whose Premier League career has been peppered with sporadic moments of brilliance at both United and former club Tottenham Hotspur, began the new season under pressure to find consistency and, most importantly, the back of the net.
Seven goals in six games suggest the United number nine is intent on ticking both boxes this time around.
Ever since swapping Spurs for United back in September 2008 for a reported 23.4 million pounds, Berbatov has split opinion among British media and Premier League fans.
A total of 26 goals in his first two seasons with United would normally be seen as a steady start but too often Berbatov attracted criticism for a poor contribution in matches where he was not finding the net.
Questions were asked about the 29-year-old’s languid playing style, which can be interpreted as genius when he is at his best but quickly morphs into disinterest and laziness when he fails to make any impact. His ability to create a useful partnership with United and England talisman Wayne Rooney has also been under scrutiny.
This season though has begun very differently. Berbatov, fresher after deciding to retire from international soccer and sporting a new trim and tidy haircut, seems intent on being the all-round striker Alex Ferguson’s side need if they are to successfully topple champions Chelsea.
He has also provided the all-important goals lacking from an out-of-sorts Rooney distracted by problems in his personal life.
“There was a lot of criticism of him (Berbatov) last season from the media – it happens when we buy someone for a lot of money, that’s the way of the world,” Ferguson told reporters after Sunday’s win at Old Trafford.
“But this season he has started off in the right fashion. He was good in pre-season and on tour and has carried it on. There has never been any doubt about the quality of the man.”
His second on Sunday – a brilliantly crafted overhead kick worthy of an Eric Cantona flick-up of the collar – shows just what is on offer from the Bulgarian, equally clever in his link-up play with fellow team mates.
United fans will be hoping they can savour many more ‘Berba’ moments as the season unfolds.