Once dubbed a “genius” by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, Dimitar Berbatov enjoyed a fruitful career at some of Europe’s top sides, arguably playing his best football whilst in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
Since leaving England in 2014, Berbatov made a couple of pit-stops in Europe with Monaco and PAOK, and most recently winding down his career with Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters.
Widely regarded as a lethal finisher, Berbatov also possessed one of the best touches in the modern game, delightfully beating opponents with deft flicks and tricks.
Whilst not officially retired, Berbatov has been without a club since leaving Kerala Blasters in 2018, and at the age of 38 it’s unlikely that he’ll be making a return to a top tier team any time soon.
During his playing career, the Bulgarian largely stuck to the number 9 for both club and country, though there were a few oddities at some clubs which we will explore in this edition of “Career in Numbers”.
CSKA Sofia (1998-01)
Berbatov began his footballing career at his local side Pirin, turning out for their youth side. He eventually earned a call up to the reserve side, netting 77 goals in 92 appearances. This caught the attention of CSKA Sofia, arguably the most successful team in all of Bulgaria.
He joined the side’s youth team, and then made his professional debut for the The Reds during the 1998/99 season wearing the number 19 shirt. The number 9 which he later became known for was then occupied by Bulgarian striker Valentin Stanchev. That same season, Berbatov would go on to play in the Bulgarian Cup Final against PFC Litex Lovech – CSKA won 0-1.
Stanchev’s season-long loan spell came to an end, and Berbatov inherited the number 9 shirt in just his second season as a senior player for the start of he 1999/00 season, the number which he would keep for the remainder of his time at the club.
That season, he would go on to to score 14 goals in 27 league games, catching the attention of sides across Europe.
In June 2000, Berbatov came close to signing for Italian side Lecce, however the deal collapsed at the last minute. If he had signed for them, he would have had to pick a different number, as 9 was then occupied by Cristiano Lucarelli. Alas, the deal fell through, and he remained at Sofia.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen (2001-06)
The Bulgarian centre forward impressed so much during the first half of 2000/01 that German outfit Bayer Leverkusen were willing to stump up €1,300,000 for him on January 1st, 2001. He joined the Bundesliga side on a four year deal. Upon signing, he was assigned the number 12 shirt, the third different squad number of his senior career.
After Ulf Kirsten retired at the end of the 2002/03 season, Berbatov would go on to inherit his number 9 jersey, similarly to how he did at former club Sofia.
It would be Bayer Leverkusen were the Bulgarian achieved his greatest goalscoring feats, bagging scoring 69 goals in 154 appearances. Those numbers didn’t go unnoticed, and the Premier League came calling for the number 9.
Tottenham Hotspur (2006-08)
In the summer of 2006, Dimitar Berbatov joined North London side Tottenham Hotspur for just shy of £11,000,000, making him the most expensive Bulgarian player of all time. He was immediately handed the number 9 in which he’d ended his spells with Sofia and Leverkusen in.
He wore it for the two seasons he played at White Hart Lane, making it the first time he would start and end a spell with the same number.
Manchester United (2008-12)
After two impressive seasons in North London, Berbatov would go on to sign for Manchester United for £30,750,000. He was handed the number 9 shirt recently vacated by Louis Saha.
He would go on to play for United over 100 times, and during his time there picked up 2 FA Premier League titles, a League Cup win, the FA Community Shield twice and the FIFA Club World Cup.
He would keep the number 9 until his departure in 2012.
The summer of 2012 saw Berbatov join Fulham for a fee just shy of £5,000,000. He had been close to rejoining Spurs, and had that deal gone through, the number 9 which he had previously worn was ready and waiting for him after the departure of Roman Pavlyuchenko two seasons prior.
However, he opted to join Fulham, and was handed the number 9 yet again after Orlando Sá’s exit a month earlier.
This would be his longest streak wearing the number 9, wearing it continuously between 2003 and 2014 (for four different clubs).
AS Monaco (2014-15)
On the January 2014 deadline day, it was reported that AS Monaco had signed Berbatov to replace the injured Radamel Falcao for the rest of the season. At first, it was believed to be a loan move, though it was later revealed that Fulham had released Berbatov and he had signed for the French side on a permanent basis.
His preferred number 9 shirt was already in the possession of Falcao, as was the number 19 (by Mounir Obbadi) which he had worn at the start of his career. The number 12 was vacant, but the Bulgarian opted to take the number 15 for the first time in his career. The number had previously been worn by Argentinian Lucas Ocampos, though he had switched to 11 for the start of the new campaign.
Berbatov would start his first full season with Monaco with a new squad number. The forward vacated the number 15 in favour of the more attack-orientated number 10. Funnily enough, the number 9 shirt was actually vacant for Monaco’s 2014/15 season after Radamel Falcao joined Manchester United on a season long loan, however his number was preserved for his return.
However, due to Falcao’s departure, Berbatov opted to wear the number 9 in that season’s UEFA Champions League competition.
Berbatov would go on to leave Monaco in the summer of 2015, and Bernardo Silva (who wore Berbatov’s initial number 15) would go on to take the number 10 jersey after his departure.
In September 2015, Berbatov had signed a one-year contract with Greek club PAOK. Apparently, the club’s owner Ivan Savvidis had been trying to bring the Bulgarian forward to the club for three years and he finally convinced him to join.
For the second time in his career, Berbatov wore the number 10 shirt, likely because his preferred number 9 was occupied by Brazilian striker Jairo.
That season, Berbatov turned out for O Dikefalos tou Vorra 24 times and scored 5 goals.
At the end of his first season, Berbatov was released from the club and would spend a further year unemployed until he joined Kerala Blasters.
Kerala Blasters (2017-18)
After a year without a club, August 2017 saw Berbatov sign with Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters. He reunited with manager René Meulensteen who was the first team coach during his time with Manchester United.
He would once again don the number 9 that he wore for the majority of his career, and scored 1 goal in 9 appearances.
That would be the last time that Berbatov would play competitive football, and is currently without a club. An incredibly talented footballer, Dimitar Berbatov has won a plethora of honours during his 20 year career, and we may not have seen the last of him yet.