"How do you remember that?" Dimitar Berbatov remarks, with a smile on his face, after being reminded of the strangest 10 minutes in his glittering career. On a cold September evening in 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson was in a little bit of a pinch. Manchester United were leading bitter rivals Leeds United 3-0 in the League Cup third round and had already made all three of their substitutions. Debutant Zeki Fryers went down with an injury and it meant United were light at the back. Step forward, silky forward by trade Berbatov.
If there's one thing the former Bulgaria forward isn't known for, it's his defending. Berbatov could produce remarkable skills all over the pitch but you'd have to trawl through the archives to find him getting stuck into tackles. He was normally the one getting snapped after dancing away from centre backs with ease.
As the experienced head in a young United team (which included a teenage Paul Pogba making his first professional appearance) Berbatov chose to put in a shift at the back. Next to him was Michael Carrick, midfielder by trade, and it could be one of the most technically sound partnerships you'll witness. For Berbatov, it was destiny all thanks to his father.
Speaking to SPORTbible at the UK launch of fantasy football app SPITCH, Berbatov explained: "I always knew that at some point, I would play as a defender and I'll tell you why. Because my father was a defender and in training sessions more often than not, and you can ask all my teammates, we would have small games in training and I'd go and play in defence."
Berbatov's father, Ivan, played for Pirin and CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria in the 1980s.
He continued: "I played as a central defender because I wanted to see how a defender is going to think about what he needs against strikers. So in this way I can get the sense of all I need to do when I play against defenders."
Berbatov and Carrick managing to keep a clean sheet for those last 10 minutes would lead you to assume they weren't too busy. It couldn't be further from the truth.
Leeds, who were regularly midtable in the Championship in that period, wanted something against their bitter foes and threw the proverbial kitchen sink at it.
"I'm pretty good at defending if you remember that game," Berbatov jokes while thinking back to that wet night at Elland Road. "I was like [Franco] Baresi and [Franz] Beckenbauer in one. I really enjoyed it to be honest.
"I'd never escape a challenge like that, obviously Leeds being big rivals. I am really happy that you remember it too because I enjoyed it a lot."
Berbatov first arrived in England in 2006, spending two years with Tottenham Hotspur before moving to United on transfer deadline day in 2008. He came up against and was teammates with some of the greatest defenders in Premier League history and one man he remembers fondly is Nemanja Vidic.
The Serbia legend was tough as nails and a general at the heart of defence. Picking up tricks from him, no wonder Berbatov has a one game, zero goals conceded record.
"The name that comes straight to mind is Vidic," Berbatov responds instantly after being asked about his toughest opponent.
"I play against him, he's a nightmare. I go to United, and I'm like I'm here now. Then I have a training session and play against him... he's still a nightmare! He was kicking people around and is the type of guy that is going to die for his team and make your life miserable on the pitch. I like that because you test yourself."
It's clear Berbatov enjoys talking about his time at United, but some Spurs memories are flooding back too. Battles against Chelsea and the always reliable John Terry will stick with any striker.
He added: "John Terry was pretty much the same. He terrorised you, he'd bring the game close to you, breath down the back of your neck.
"But you want that competition as a striker because as I said, you test yourself. You see where you stand. Sometimes you win and then sometimes you lose. That's football."
Dimitar Berbatov was speaking at the UK launch of SPITCH’s all new Season Mode. SPITCH is a fantasy football app where you compete for the chance to win a £50,000 prize pool.
Sign up for free here: https://bit.ly/SPITCHUK. 18+ only.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy
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