Cristiano Ronaldo is not synonymous with modesty but in one of his last great games for Manchester United he was strikingly magnanimous towards two teammates.

Ronaldo sparked the remarkable revival against Tottenham in April 2009 with a penalty to make it 1-2 and 11 minutes later he turned the game on its head, dive-bombing to meet Wayne Rooney’s inswinger and put United 3-2 ahead.

Dimitar Berbatov rounded off the scoring in the 5-2 trouncing and Ronaldo nodded appreciatively at Berbatov at full-time, uttering an approving ‘Berba’ before clasping hands. In the tunnel, Ronaldo ruffled Rooney’s hair as he was accepted the man of the match award.

“It’s always important to have special players in your team,” Berbatov tells the Manchester Evening News . “Because the special players more often than not will get you that decisive goal, will get you out of trouble. When your day is not going well, you’re having a bad day, the game is not working the way you want, and they will score and you take the three points, 1-0, bam.

“These types of players know the team comes first and when the performance of the team is suffering then you can shine. But also because of the work of the team, you can shine in many games as well and get your moment. Ronaldo knew that and he was there to score the important goals, the beautiful goals. When he needed to sacrifice himself for the team, he did it.”

Berbatov and Ronaldo react after the latter's penalty against Bolton in 2008
Berbatov and Ronaldo react after the latter’s penalty against Bolton in 2008

Berbatov strode out of the tunnel in front of Ronaldo – always last out – 26 times and United lost twice, unfortunate defeats at Arsenal and Fulham. United won seven and drew eight when Ronaldo returned to the XI after ankle surgery, with Berbatov the club-record addition. There were 21 goals.

Ronaldo attempted to engineer a departure in the summer Berbatov arrived but had to wait another year. The Ronaldo saga lingered in the background during their season together and Sir Alex Ferguson was so irked by Real Madrid’s public flirtation he vowed he ‘wouldn’t sell them a virus’. Six months later, Madrid agreed a world record £80million for Ronaldo.

“From my year training with him, it was good to see his hard work. Of course, talent [is important], but hard work, dedication, staying after training to practice,” Berbatov recalls of Ronaldo. “He didn’t miss any training sessions, ever.

“I was thinking we’d play together for a long time, maybe the other boys were thinking the same. But we are all professional football players, we know that things like this happen. One day you’re here, the other day you’re gone, you don’t have time to say ‘bye’ to your teammates because things are going so quick and so erratic sometimes it just needs to happen.

“One season is one season, it was enough for me to know how good a professional he was and we see the results, many years after that we see he is one of the best in the history of football.

“Now he’s back, more mature, more developed. It will be interesting to watch him and see how he impacts the young players in the team also, how he’s going to again fit into the Premier League way of playing football quicker.

“Coming home, I think he is feeling gratitude and a new challenge. Not every time coming back to the same place equals success. We know that: it’s football. That is the challenge for him and people are expecting that because it’s Ronaldo.”

Berbatov was the most reserved of United’s starry attacking quartet in 2008-09 and the one who split the fanbase. Teammates witnessed Carlos Tevez slacken during his last year at Carrington but on matchday he was adored by the matchgoers.

Some resented Berbatov for marginalising Tevez and the disharmony was such that he was booed by a minority of fans three days after his casual penalty was saved in the FA Cup semi-final. Berbatov’s maverick personality jarred with the breakneck play of a front three that spearheaded United to a Premier and Champions League double the previous season.

“If I am to change something from my past, it is to be more open and let in more people around me,” Berbatov stresses. “Because I was very shy, very private, very embarrassed sometimes with what I had to say.

“And that moment (at United) – I was that guy. A bit shy, a bit private with my thoughts. Still, I had a great understanding with everybody on the training pitch and in the games, yes. We didn’t go to each others’ houses for dinner but still had a great understanding. Because when you know that it’s for the best of the team, everything else comes second place.”

Ronaldo and Berbatov prepare for training during the Club World Cup in Japan, December 2008
Ronaldo and Berbatov prepare for training during the Club World Cup in Japan, December 2008

Ferguson illogically listed Ronaldo among just four world-class players he ever managed in 2015. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were two of the others and Berbatov noticed Ronaldo was placed in the same hierarchy as United’s academy keepers of the flame.

“In football, there is a hierarchy. Football players know that, trust me,” Berbatov explains. “When you are the star of the football team, you will get a bit more different treatment, for sure. Especially if you score goals, if you play games, if you make assists, if you sacrifice for the team, this is normal, everybody will understand that.

“This was the same with Giggsy, Scholes and Gary Neville when I was there and they were at a late stage in their careers and they had been there for so long. You know these are the guys, they train a bit differently, they have more rest and you don’t complain because they deserve it.

“It was the same with Ronaldo, he deserves everything that comes his way. Sir Alex was coming from an era of experience. Maybe for him, it was easier to speak with everyone individually, and even if you don’t play he will tell you in a way [so] that you will be driving home and you will still feel part of the team.

“He once told me, ‘Berba, you are not going to play in the next game, I’m saving you for the other game.’ And I’d be like, ‘But boss, I want to play. I love to play.’

“I’m not playing, I’m driving home but I’m thinking that I’m still part of the team. I’m not agreeing with his decision but still feeling part of the team and not left out. My mood is still okay.

“So this is the moment when you need to know how to speak individually with everyone. Hopefully, Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] will have that experience. Hopefully, he knows how to speak with the young boys, the inexperienced ones. Because everybody’s different. Some will need a slap on the head, some he will need to be more gentle with.”

Dimitar Berbatov was speaking ahead of the launch of Betfair’s new VAR-Batov series, where the Premier League legend will be judging the unfair moments in football that affect so many punters. Watch the first in the series on Betfair’s twitter next week.