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May 30, 2011

Berbatov future in real doubt

Dimitar Berbatov appears likely to quit Manchester United after his exclusion from the Champions League final squad.

Fergie: Berba didn't storm out
Jolly: Barca cruelly end era

Berbatov, 30, was the joint leading scorer in the Premier League this season but found himself increasingly marginalised as Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez became established as Sir Alex Ferguson's chosen strike partnership.

Ferguson surprisingly opted for Michael Owen, whose contract expires this summer, on the bench in place of Berbatov for Saturday's 3-1 defeat to Barcelona at Wembley, and it was suggested the Bulgarian had refused to remain at the stadium as a result. However, his agent, Emil Danchev, said: "It's nonsense. Mitko [Berbatov] was at Wembley and watched the game. There is nothing to say. Let us take a few days."

Even so, it appears his days at the club may be numbered. The Sun and The Daily Star are now claiming that Berbatov has already made up his mind to leave, while the Daily Mirror moots a potential swap deal with Tottenham's Luka Modric.

The Independent notes that, while Manchester United have an option to extend Berbatov's deal by a year, they are in no rush to do so, while The Times adds that he "could hardly have had a more bleak indication about his future prospects than being overlooked in favour of Owen, who has started one league match all season".

Despite the suggestions that Berbatov has played his last game for the club, team-mate Nani has urged Ferguson to retain the forward as he sets about renewing his squad for next season.

"He has scored a lot of goals, and I would like him to play for Manchester again next season," Nani said. "I don't know which players will be coming in, but most important is that the ones who stay fight for us."

Berbatov was present at United's open-top bus tour on Monday to celebrate their Premier League success.

Meanwhile, The Times says Ferguson, 69, has pledged to stay on a further three years as he seeks to add to United's Champions League tally and establish the club among the all-time European elite.

"The Scot, who came close to retiring at 60, has indicated to the board that he could stay on beyond his 72nd birthday and break the late Sir Bobby Robson's record as the oldest manager since the Premier League began," the paper reports.

"Ferguson had maintained that he would not emulate Robson by managing beyond his 70th birthday this year and has often intimated that he could make a sudden decision to step down at the end of a season. But his latest discussions with the United hierarchy have led to the belief that retirement has never been farther from his mind."

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