Thursday 21 September 2017

Hard to justify positive spin when you're stuck on rotation

Dion Fanning

T hey had a convention for the 'They're All Heroes Now' Brigade at Old Trafford last Wednesday night and Darron Gibson was the keynote speaker.

Gibson's pass for Antonio Valencia's opening goal was compared by some to Iniesta's in the Nou Camp the night before.

Gibson did indeed give a glimpse of his talent on Wednesday night. His career so far has been as notable for the occasions when he fails to find a way of demonstrating it.

A few weeks ago, Gibson started for Manchester United when they played Everton at home. Late in the game, with United looking for a critical goal, Edwin van der Sar brought the ball out of his box. He wanted somebody to show for it and so did the crowd which howled with anxiety. Gibson was walking in the opposite direction, like a man pacing hurriedly through an airport terminal, so Anderson sprinted back past him to get the ball from his goalkeeper. Moments later, Rio Ferdinand and Gibson exchanged words. It looked like Ferdinand was wondering where Gibson was when Van der Sar was looking for a team-mate. Gibson pointed to the full-backs as if to say, 'They could take the ball'. A minute later, he was substituted.

It brought to mind John Giles' line to Norman Hunter when Hunter was spending a sunny day spraying the ball around and ignoring Giles who was looking to take the ball from him. "I'm there for you in the good times and the bad times."

Gibson too often plays as if somebody else will pick up the pieces. He can do this at Manchester United and still be around for the rare evenings like Wednesday when his side have a two-goal lead and players like Gibson can show that he is a good-time boy.

The players could relax and play their stuff. For some of them, perhaps, there was maybe even freedom in the knowledge that no matter what they did, they won't be picked for today's game.

Gibson has always reacted with incredulity to the idea that he should play his football anywhere but Manchester United. It is not his desire to play for Manchester United that is the problem, it is the incredulity.

Gibson is young enough to make more of his career or he is old enough to be a useful man to have around; a player Alex Ferguson can turn to when the rest have more important matters to attend to. Gibson appears to think that this is enough if many others don't.

He has been a notable casualty on Twitter, closing his account only two hours after opening it. In that time, he was subjected to the kind of abuse only those who shout anonymously can provide. Yet Rio Ferdinand claimed that Gibson left because "he couldn't be bothered" with Twitter, not because of the abuse.

Nobody really cared what Ferdinand said. The abuse story had taken hold, even if the idea that Gibson "couldn't be bothered" seemed more characteristic.

Gibson seems to have a single-minded obsession about playing for Manchester United. Again this is a good thing as long as he doesn't begin to resemble a besotted teenager obsessing over a girl who isn't really interested. Soon he starts interpreting an 'hello' as a sign that they will soon be together forever. Anyone who suggests he should maybe think about somebody else is cattily dismissed.

Gibson most notably responded when Giovanni Trapattoni made some comments about where he should play football.

"To be honest, if he's trying to say that I should move somewhere like Stoke City and change my game to winning tackles and not winning games then he's having a laugh."

Gibson would later text Trapattoni to deny that he said those things but whoever said them seemed to present the Darron Gibson case very well.

Gibson will be in the Manchester United party for the Chelsea game today and he will probably enjoy the sights when they travel to London for the European Cup final but his goal in the second leg when the game was won in the first will probably be his final contribution.

Even the most indulgent Manchester United supporter who took heart from his performance against Schalke would hesitate to suggest he should be in the team for the important matches.

Gibson may develop as Darren Fletcher has. But he has rarely shown the willingness to make the physical contribution Fletcher did, even when Fletcher was inconsistent. Gibson has probably more talent than Fletcher but, then again, so does Anderson, who was also making a valiant contribution on 'They're All Heroes Now' night last week.

One of the key factors in Alex Ferguson's genius has been his ability to ensure that Manchester United beat the cannon fodder of the Premier League more often than any of their challengers, particularly at home.

He had, as the most determined rotation specialist in the league, as much success in persuading the bit-part players at Manchester United that they can be part of it by always playing a supporting role.

Gibson gave those who say he needs to leave Old Trafford as much ammunition last week as he gave those who say he should stay.

By demonstrating what he is capable of against Schalke, he merely left many wondering why he doesn't do it more often or find somewhere where he is given that opportunity.

If he is allowed to think that he has routed his critics because he played a killer-pass in a Champions League semi-final and scored a goal which was the result of dreadful goalkeeping, then his career will remain on the same plateau.

This was not a normal semi-final. It was garbage time with some bells and whistles. Gibson will have confounded his critics, not when he's starring in those matches, but when he's not playing in them.

dfanning@independent.ie

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