Saturday 22 July 2017

Gibson must heed wise trap and leave United before it's too late

James Lawton

James Lawton

One of these days the message to Darron Gibson from old Giovanni Trapattoni might finally hit home. However, the worry which emerged at the Stade Velodrome this week was, will Old Trap's football wisdom register just a little too late?

The indicators are certainly not good. Gibson is 23 now and still apparently happy to enjoy the cachet -- and occasional first team exposure -- that comes with being a member of the Manchester United squad. But where, as Trapattoni publicly mused, is he really going?

Certainly he has not advanced beyond the image of a relatively guileless midfielder capable of unleashing from time to time venomous shots on goal. It is an impressive talent, but not nearly enough to justify his ranking as an international player capable of achieving the status of a genuine, play-making craftsman at the highest level.

This, with the inevitable decline of such titans as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, is the crying need of both a United fighting to preserve their chances of an overachieving treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, and an Irish team intent on punching above their weight and qualifying for the major tournaments.

Chances

This week in Marseille, Gibson was given the best of his chances to persuade United manager Alex Ferguson that he truly has the potential to be part of a necessarily reshaped United midfield.

That he failed was evident enough even before Ferguson called a halt to the latest experiment by sending on the 36-year-old Scholes to replace Gibson after 72 minutes.

The point of this exercise was clear just about instantly. Scholes brought to the field all those qualities that Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and, it has to be said, most noticeably Gibson had failed to produce.

We are talking about a willingness to get on the ball and influence proceedings, which we have to remember were not being conducted against the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, but an extremely mediocre French side.

You cannot teach a Gibson to be one of the most exceptional midfielders over the best of two decades, but you can hope that he will pick up a few of the essential street smarts that go into survival at the top of the game.

Of course, as Old Trap, pointed out, these are not so easily acquired when most of your football existence is being spent on an extremely well upholstered bench.

Gibson was indignant, even derisive when Trapattoni suggested he would be better off in somewhere like Stoke or Bolton, where he had to constantly prove himself capable of making a contribution in the Premier League.

It is only in such a toughening process that a young player can truly prove his potential -- a fact recognised by no less than Arsene Wenger when he moved the brilliant Jack Wilshere up to Bolton for a vital loan spell.

Bolton pleaded for the loan to be extended, but, for obvious reasons, Wenger declined. He had seen enough of the boy in sustained and serious competition and now of course he is part of the fabric of the Arsenal team.

Gibson, forlornly, looked a thousand miles away from such status as his chance of a major impact was blown away by the first gusts of Le Mistral.

As he heads towards his 24th birthday, Gibson is going to be pushed to enjoy the kind of respected life in the wings now being endured by John O'Shea, a player of undoubted ability and versatility, but one who has never quite fulfilled his striking early promise.

Gibson's career prospects, it also needs to be stressed, are perhaps some way down Ferguson's agenda. Whatever happens in the next few months, whether or not United continue to back their way to major triumphs, there is no question that he needs desperately to re-animate his midfield.

Fletcher has turned himself into an effective if often less than inspired workhorse, but when you take away the raiding pyrotechnics of Nani and the potential of Antonio Valencia to recover from a terrible injury, there is a harsh truth for the United manager.

The man who has built his career on the timely acquisition of major players in the wake of his inherited diamond, Bryan Robson, has never had a greater need of re-seeding.

Roy Keane became United's most influential player -- and arguably the most dominant in Premier League history -- and Eric Cantona proved an astonishing catalyst. Cristiano Ronaldo seamlessly replaced David Beckham and for a little while at least, Wayne Rooney promised to carry the dynasty on his shoulders.

Gravitas

There are no such certainties now -- and perhaps nor would they be created in the highly unlikely event of Ferguson being able to steal someone like Luka Modric away from Spurs. The sometimes mesmerising Croat is a beautiful talent, but has he the gravitas and the weight to transform a midfield plainly no longer fit for purposes?

No, the need is for someone more of the order of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the German behemoth who so excited the interest of both Ferguson and Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti before he re-signed for Bayern Munich.

The search for such a figure must proceed with or without a successful takeover of United by financial heavyweights like the royal family of Qatar. Sometimes you have to invest or die and for Ferguson this is a dilemma he has suffered enough for one long and extraordinary season contending for major honours.

This, surely, is the big picture that the master of Old Trafford contemplated at the low points of a performance in France, which was hopelessly short of the standards he has always set as the most successful manager in English football.

In the corner, was the frustrating image of Darron Gibson, an ageing contender who was missing the chance to make a case for himself at a most vital point in his career. Move on, said Old Trap, and now, more than ever, it is hard to deny that he may well be right.

Irish Independent

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