Signs point to Berbatov exit
Dimitar Berbatov looks certain to discover within the next couple of weeks whether he has any future at Manchester United.
Although the Bulgarian and his representatives have repeatedly stressed there is no desire to leave the club, his prospects of remaining at Old Trafford have never looked bleaker.
Not only was the 30-year-old left out of Ferguson's Champions League squad at Wembley on Saturday night, the man who took his place, Michael Owen, remained on the bench throughout the 90 minutes even when United were desperately in need of a goal to exert some pressure on Barcelona.
So, if Berbatov finds himself not only behind Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez in the striking pecking order, but also a player Ferguson opted not to call on in a crisis, and whose own Red Devils future is under a major cloud, it is hard to see how the former Tottenham man can have any meaningful role.
And, once the United boss has decided a player is surplus to requirements, they soon get the message, as Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, Paul Ince and Jim Leighton to name but four can testify.
"It was a difficult decision," said Ferguson in the aftermath of the chastening 3-1 defeat.
"It was not something I found easy. I wanted to overload my substitutes in the midfield positions because that was the area which most important in terms of the way Barcelona play.
"It came down to a choice between Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov. My view was that if we needed someone to nick a goal in the last few minutes of the game, Michael Owen, with his experience, was the man."
A bit like Juan Sebastian Veron, when Berbatov became Ferguson's last significant purchase in August 2008 the idea was to bring more subtlety to a side basking in their Premier League and Champions League double.
As with Veron, getting Berbatov's obvious talent to fit in with the general pattern of United's quick play has proved exceptionally difficult.
There have been flashes of inspiration and the former Bayer Leverkusen star carried United during the first half of the campaign just ended with Rooney in the doldrums.
However, Ferguson quickly had reservations.
He left Berbatov out of his starting line-up for the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona in Rome and wasted no time in axing the forward this term once Hernandez started to exhibit his potential on a regular basis.
It was not lost on Ferguson that of the 20 goals that secured Berbatov a share of the Premier League's Golden Boot prize, 11 came in just three games.
His hat-trick against Liverpool in September will live long in the memory, as will the five-goal haul in the destruction of Blackburn, making him only the fourth Premier League player to achieve such a tally.
However, Berbatov has scored only twice since January and was chiefly responsible for the wasted chances that cost United their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
Ahead of that game, Ferguson had appeared to lay down the gauntlet to Berbatov, stating: "It is unfortunate for Dimitar because he is a fantastic player. But the reasons are obvious.
"Every manager and every player in the country has faced that situation in their career when someone emerges to challenge you."
Berbatov's subsequent performance did not portray him in a positive light.
Since then, the only games he has started were the Champions League semi-final second-leg against Schalke and the season-ending win over Blackpool, both of which saw Ferguson rest a number of key men.
He still has a year left on his contract and United do have the option of adding an additional season should they so wish.
But talks over a new deal stalled some time ago and there have been no signs of a resumption being ordered.
Now it seems Ferguson has decided further work is futile.
Once he has come to such a concrete decision, the Scot's normal tactic would be to usher the unwanted player through the exit door at the earliest opportunity.
In this instance, it would be even more likely given this summer seems certain to be one of change, and expense.
United officials rejected claims Berbatov had abandoned his team-mates on Saturday night, insisting he was in the visitors' dressing room offering support.
However, barring an unlikely change of mind from Ferguson, it seems an arm will soon be required round the shoulder of this most thoughtful of characters as he assesses where his United career has gone so badly wrong.
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