Glimpse of Gibson's vanity won't impress stubborn Trapattoni
Published 10/09/2010 | 05:00
Trust Old Trap to offer some career advice to the still relatively obscure Darron Gibson on an issue that is increasingly touching the professional lives of some of the biggest names in the game.
Do they want to play, immerse themselves in the heart and the rhythm of a team, or are they as happy to grow rich without the steady beat of performance that can only come from regular competitive action?
On the face of it, Giovanni Trapattoni was merely suggesting that Gibson would be a far more valuable member of the Republic of Ireland squad if he spent less time watching the veteran Paul Scholes and the likes of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick from the Manchester United bench or reserve team -- and more developing his talent on the field with the first team of another club, the only place that really counts in the mind of the coach.
Gibson was indignant. He made his breakthrough in an Irish shirt at roughly the time he was beginning to score spectacular goals for United, and naturally the young man wanted it all, the glory and prestige and the huge wages that came with performing at the Theatre of Dreams and also a regular place in the team that Trapattoni took so close to the World Cup finals.
Increasingly, though, the likes of Gibson are required to understand that vital decisions have to be made at an early stage of their professional development. If you operate at a certain level where your raw talent does not command automatic acknowledgement, there is a question mark against that ability to have it all.
Wayne Rooney has invited huge pressure on himself by assuming that his status as one of the world's most gifted players was quite separate from the need to operate his private life with a degree of control and discretion, at least if he wanted to avoid the kind of public examination under which he was put between two notable European Championship qualifying performances for England. His club-mate Gibson's challenge, though, is much more grounded in the game he seeks to play at the highest level.
Rooney, short of a meltdown in nerve and commitment, is the first name on the team sheets of his United and England managers, Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello. Gibson is never likely to enjoy such treatment. His challenge is to impress -- game in, game out -- a man like Trapattoni that he is getting stronger, more aware of every situation that can challenge a young pro.
The bench is not a place to proceed with such an education, nor the training ground. Real progress requires the real thing.
The key Trapattoni quote was: "I said that when younger players play more games or play always in the first or second leagues, it improves their personality, only this. There is no other problem.
"Gibson can stay in Manchester. It's not my problem. I will continue to call him up but I can't have eight players in my team who aren't playing for their clubs."
Of course he can have as few as two, especially if their names are Shay Given and Robbie Keane. But even here, with players of such established performance levels, there will soon enough be a question of sharpness, a worry about the effects of prolonged exclusion from the serious action.
Given may prefer the opulence of Manchester City to the margins of the Premier League with, say, Fulham; he may draw some satisfaction from contemplating the virtues of a rich old age; but if his young City rival Joe Hart continues to project his talent and confidence, for how long will he be content in the twilight zone?
Gibson's current resolve to fight it out at Old Trafford will surely be ultimately complicated by the limited chances he has to inflict his competitive 'personality' on the knowing Trapattoni. Given and Keane have had ample opportunity to do so, but Gibson has had a few opportunities to blossom under most optimum conditions. So far this season he has to yet to appear in the United first team, a situation that is in sharp comparison to one of his rivals for a place in the Irish midfield, Glenn Whelan.
While Gibson sat out the action the weekend before last, the Stoke City player was immersed in the greatest challenge facing any Premier League player -- he was attempting to make an impact on Chelsea, something he did with a driving performance and one shot which rattled the crossbar.
Stoke was the club that was put to Gibson as a possible route to more regular first-team football and he was aghast at the suggestion that he could learn more in a team not noted for its sophistication than the one that includes men like Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
Trapattoni's point, of course, is that it is not merely a question of learning; it is doing, making the mistakes, but marching on with a greater certainty about what you have do when the pressure is greatest.
That applied to Stoke cruelly at times when Chelsea were besieging their goal, but Whelan was notable for the relish and strength he brought to the battle.
Rightly or wrongly, Gibson creates the suspicion that he may be looking at his life and his football from the perspective of someone who believes the big tests have already been passed. He certainly offers an airy rejection of any suggestion that he would be better off in the Potteries learning how to win tackles rather than staying at United and winning games. But if this was a vanity, it was unlikely to impress Trapattoni.
The old coach is plainly immovable on the most basic of points. Just as fighters must fight, football players must play football. Gibson wondered whether the old man was "having a laugh".
If he is wise, he will not waste further time on such speculation. It would be as futile as spending too much time on the bench, wherever that happens to be.