Tuesday 28 February 2017

Don't knock Gibson for chasing his Old Trafford dream

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

H e is our record scorer and will inevitably become our most capped player of all time. Clubs have parted with over stg£75m in transfer fees for him throughout his career and only a fool would rule out that figure increasing very soon.

Robbie Keane's career has become one of the most lucrative of any Irish player in history, both on and off the field. He can consider himself very fortunate that he chose Wolves over Liverpool when he was a kid.

Every year, a handful of talented Irish schoolboys hoping for a career in the UK face the same dilemma. Sign for a top club where the wages, facilities, players and coaches cannot be matched elsewhere, or opt for a lesser club which provides greater opportunities to play. Parental influence can often be the deciding factor, but once the deal is signed it's all down to the player.

Few who go to top clubs make any real progress before being moved on, and many who leave achieve nothing after they go. Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson is one of the rare examples of an Irish player who has made the breakthrough and become an established squad player at the very highest level.

You would assume that would earn him the respect of those at home, but it appears you would be wrong. Most critics concentrate on his shortcomings compared to those around him, and none seem to believe he will remain at Old Trafford much longer. Even Giovanni Trapattoni seems unimpressed with much of what he can offer.

For example, consider the reaction to his performance against Rangers. He played in a team short of attacking ideas against a team bereft of attacking intent, yet for many this game was confirmation that Gibson is not up to it at all. That it was at Champions League level mattered little (even though Manchester United qualifying from the group was always a racing certainty). While other Irish lads impress for teams whose aim is to reach 40 points in the Premier League as soon as possible, Gibson is experiencing life at the very top table. How long he stays there remains to be seen, but it would not surprise me if his career at Old Trafford emulates that of John O'Shea.

Aware of the opinions of him out there, Gibson spoke last week of his patience and realism when it comes to his short-term first-team expectations. He is also all too aware of what Trapattoni thinks. Surpassed recently in the pecking order by a Derby County player none of us was aware of six months ago, he seems to be at best the fourth-ranked central midfielder in the Irish squad.

It would surprise me greatly if he made any decision to favour an international career over his progress at club level. He was criticised in many quarters recently for his response to Trapattoni's view that he may benefit from a move away from Old Trafford. Dismissed as arrogant or a little petulant, the manner in which he scoffed at the idea of a move to a club like Stoke City made headlines everywhere.

Personally, I've no problem with players coming out and publicly defending themselves against what they believe to be unjust criticism or nonsensical comments. For a young player to challenge the view of Trapattoni in such a way shows there is perhaps more to him than we first realised. And before anyone says we should therefore have more respect for Stephen Ireland for the same reason, forget about it. Ireland's just an idiot.

There is no other club in England at which the standard has been set so high for so long. That Gibson is not the preferred choice in central midfield is used against him by those who insist a move away is needed. Considering the form and pedigree of some of those ahead of him, it is utterly ludicrous to suggest that because of this his career would be best served elsewhere. It is worth noting that critics often cite Keane's schooling at Wolves to explain some of his shortcomings, saying those years would have been better served in the Academy at Anfield. Gibson could go to a lesser club where first-team football is guaranteed. Others have done this and enjoyed prolonged spells of competitive football at places like West Brom, Newcastle and Sunderland. Lofty achievements for most players in professional football, but not for any with experience of life at Manchester United.

Gibson appeared pragmatic about his situation at United when asked about it last week. He will join the Ireland squad fully expecting a place on the bench for both upcoming games against Russia and Slovakia. It's far more difficult to play for United than for Ireland, but he appears more than willing to have a crack at doing both. I don't understand the mindset of those who knock him for attempting to do so.

rsadlier@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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