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14 Agustus 2008

Dimitar Berbatov signing to guarantee title race has competitive edge

This will be the signing that gives us a title race rather than a title procession. Without Dimitar Berbatov, I am convinced that Manchester United would watch Chelsea cruise to the Barclays Premier League title by a good ten points. With him, it will be a tight contest because the striker has the talent to make a huge impact, as Eric Cantona, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham did at Old Trafford.
United will feel that they are overpaying for Berbatov by as much as £8million - he may cost £28million. But Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, would argue that they have little choice and that the outlay will be worth it if United retain their title. It is the only move that gives them a chance to keep pace with Chelsea.
Cristiano Ronaldo is injured and Wayne Rooney is recovering from illness, but United cannot afford to wait for them to regain top form. Ferguson's team need to show a cutting edge immediately. They are away to Liverpool and Chelsea on successive weekends in September and the risk of being six points behind after five weeks is too great not to act, despite the price.
For the longer term they have signed a star, a 27-year-old whose best years are to come. A fit, motivated Berbatov - what an asset. He may not have Cantona's aura or toughness, but he is better technically. Berbatov is as talented as Marco van Basten, and if he does not quite have the Holland striker's speed or the workrate of a Carlos Tévez, he will be surrounded by quick, willing runners. It will not matter if he does not bust a gut chasing back and supporting the team when they are defending.
United are the perfect team for Berbatov. Imagine his movement and creative potential alongside Rooney and Ronaldo, fed by Paul Scholes. The Bulgaria striker unlocks defences with his intelligent, precise passing and creates space with his smart running. And do not forget his goalscoring. It is not only that he is prolific: Berbatov offers an aerial threat, unlike Rooney and Tévez.
There will be doom and gloom at White Hart Lane. Tottenham Hotspur's two key strikers, Robbie Keane and Berbatov, gone in a summer. Spurs should look to Goodison Park for inspiration. Everton lost Rooney to United in 2004 and what happened? They went on to finish fourth.
David Moyes adapted. He is a manager who knows how to manage change. At Arsenal, Arsène Wenger coped with the loss of Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, three mainstays, over three years. Last season Gareth Southgate kept Middlesbrough up despite losing Mark Viduka and Yakubu Ayegbeni, which was one of the finest achievements of the season. Tottenham have looked good in pre-season and Juande Ramos, the head coach, will hardly have been taken by surprise at the vanishing of his strikeforce. He will find a way for his team to cope and to thrive.
Besides, Tottenham fans should realise that had Berbatov stayed, he would not have been at his best. Unhappy players tend to underperform. But a motivated, excited, healthy and happy Berbatov - that is some prospect. His presence will be felt at Stamford Bridge as well as Old Trafford.