30.01.2022Bayer 04

Berbatov: ‘Easy goals bored me’

This Sunday is a double special day for Dimitar Berbatov: The former Bayer 04 top striker, who scored 69 goals and provided 32 assists in 154 Bundesliga matches for the Black and Reds, today celebrates his 41st birthday. In addition, it is the 20th anniversary of his Goal of the Month in the DFB Cup tie against TSV 1860 Munich (3-0). To mark the anniversary and his stats, we asked the Bulgarian record goalscorer, who came to Leverkusen in 2001 at the age of 19 and stayed for five and a half years, about his outstanding goal and good advice for young strikers.

Dimitar, first of all we'd like to wish you many happy returns on your birthday on behalf of Bayer 04. This day is not just special because of that. Exactly 20 years ago, you scored a goal in a Werkself shirt that was later named Goal of the Month. What are your memories of that strike?

Berbatov: I still remember that goal really well as it was an overhead kick and I loved to score goals like that. A bit spectacular, a bit special. And when you hear people say: "Oh my God, I want to try that and I want to imitate it." To be honest: The easy goals were too boring for me. I always wanted to do something fantastic and entertain the fans. Also I was playing with Ulf Kirsten back then. I think he was the player who passed it to me. At that moment, or as the ball flew towards me, it was the very second where I thought of making that move – and it worked. (He laughs)

What was the atmosphere like at the BayArena back then?

Berbatov: I enjoyed every single day even when I wasn't playing. I grew up with stands, fans and atmosphere. And at difficult times it was also something special for me to go onto the pitch at the BayArena. The most important thing for me was to help the team and fight every battle. It didn't matter whether it was with a goal or an assist, they can all help.

You were very young when you came to Leverkusen. How did you approach big games like that in the Bundesliga?

Berbatov: I trained really hard, every day. When I finally got the chance to play I obviously wanted to show what I could do. And when you play up front with Ulf Kirsten it gives you even more motivation. He's a legend in Leverkusen – and also for me too.

Your coach Klaus Toppmöller said to you at half-time: "Two plus one is three so you have to score three goals today" – do you remember him saying that?

Berbatov: Unfortunately not, but that goal should have counted twice. (He laughs) No, joking aside. When I think back to my goals for Leverkusen then this always comes to mind. Not many people who know me thought it was possible because it was very early in my career. But for me it was and is one of the most important goals. And then on my birthday – it was a present from me to myself.

You scored a lot of goals for Bayer 04 with a total of 91.

Berbatov: Yes, but this one was very acrobatic. It required balance, imagination and improvisation. And when it doesn't work out you look like an idiot because you didn't hit the ball properly. I always tried to play a slightly different type of football when the opportunity came my body worked automatically. My game was based on such movements, that was my thing.

Were you surprised when it was named Goal of the Month?

Berbatov: I was surprised because I was so young (21, ed.) and I didn't actually know at the time that there were awards for goals. So, I was positively surprised and obviously a bit proud of myself. Individual awards are good for your ego and your self-esteem but you always have to keep on going after every award. You can never stop or rest. From that moment it was clear to me: I wanted to score a lot more goals like that in my career – which I think I did really well in the end. (He laughs)

How did your friends and family react?

Berbatov: Of course they were happy for me. At the end of the day, my advice to young strikers remains the same: A goal is a goal, no matter how. If you can score easy goals then do it. Sometimes a simple goal can achieve a lot more than a spectacular one as it brings the most important thing in the end: victory.

Looking back, how important was the goal for you and what do you think about it after all this time?

Berbatov: That's where my journey began. I love goals like that when the crowd stares in disbelief and says: "Wow!"

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