Sport Soccer

Thursday 20 July 2017

Outside the box: Gibson could pay price for 'hot shot' tag

Remember that Roberto Carlos free-kick? The one that had Fabien Barthez looking more dumbfounded than usual and had scientists scurrying to determine how he managed to swerve the ball so far.

That it arrived in a friendly tournament in 1997 was irrelevant to the quality of the strike, although team-mates who watched him try, and mostly fail, to replicate it for the rest of his career might justifiably argue that his immediate anointment to among the world's greatest strikers of a ball should have been put on hold until he scored his next one. They might have been waiting a while.

There are few better labels to have attached to a player than 'free-kick expert', although being christened as a player with 'a good shot on him' certainly runs it close.

In both cases, it only takes one or two good strikes to buy a failure licence for dozens more. Every time one such player gets the ball, there's an anticipation that something special might happen although, in most cases, the crowd would have less chance of being hit if they actually stood in the goal.

Like kissing the badge or racing into the net to fight the goalkeeper for the ball after a late goal -- such urgency earlier in the game would make this unnecessary -- it can be easy to fool a crowd with a rasping shot that almost goes in, even if there are team-mates in better positions.

In the comic books, 'Hot Shot Hamish' rarely had a team-mate screaming for a pass as he lined up another bar-breaking, net-busting strike, although 'Mighty Mouse' might have given him the odd earful.

Among the Premier League's best current incarnations of Hamish is Darron Gibson, the Irish international whose profile on Manchester United's official website lists him as "an athletic midfieler who packs a powerful shot." Not someone who can keep possession, set the tempo of a game or spot a pass, instead he can run a lot and kick the ball very hard.

Official websites and programmes aren't always the most reliable of guides -- the player's weight is often a giveaway -- but in Gibson's case it's difficult to contradict.

In the highlights package of a game that Gibson has played, there is usually a clip of him firing an effort somewhere in the direction of the goal, hearing an 'ooh' from the crowd and pursing his lips tightly in correlation with how close the shot was to being on target.

He has been occasionally successful, with fine goals against Hull and Bayern Munich, yet, as someone who turns 23 next month, his record of a goal every six or seven appearances, is closer to that of someone who gets lucky every now and then rather than a consistent goalscoring midfielder.

At United, Gibson is lucky enough to play alongside Paul Scholes who, despite an impeccable technique that results in goals like the one against Fulham earlier in the season, tends to hit a shot as a last resort rather than a first.

Unfair

It may be unfair to compare Gibson to Scholes, but, at United, any central midfielder for the next decade is going to be examined through a ginger prism, although that's presuming Gibson will still be around to come under the Old Trafford microscope.

By giving him a contract at United until 2012 and making him a Carling Cup regular, Alex Ferguson has shown a degree of faith in Gibson's ability, although the manager's absence against Scunthorpe last week shows where the competition itself ranks on the club's pecking order.

Yet, for every Darren Fletcher, who Ferguson stuck with until he proved good enough, there has been a Jonathan Greening or Kieran Richardson -- bright young things of the United youth system who have made fine livings for themselves without being burdened by medals.

Gibson was unhappy with Giovanni Trapattoni's assertion that he could benefit from a move to somewhere like Stoke, but Trap's decisions seem to be based far more on what he sees on the training ground rather than what club the player happens to represent -- hence Paul Green of Derby County started the last two games, which would seem to relegate Gibson, if everyone is fit, to fourth choice in Ireland's engine room.

With Green, Keith Andrews or Glenn Whelan, Trapattoni knows what he'll get, which, although it might not always be pleasing on the eye, can at least allow a manager to plan accordingly.

With Gibson, Trapattoni or Ferguson might get a goal to savour from a long-range shot and give the crowd another moment with which to build up his reputation. Alternatively, the managers might just lose patience and a fan in the lower deck might get a ball in the face.

The problem for Gibson is that as long as he has a reputation first as a good shooter rather than a good player, nobody can be sure which eventuality is likely to come first.

WHEN YOU SHOULD BE WORKING

With Ajax playing AC Milan tomorrow, it seems appropriate to look back at the career highlights of a man who starred for both, Marco van Basten.

The Dutchman's overhead kick at 35 seconds of this clip can't just be watched once http://tinyurl.com/34yatno

QUESTION NOBODY ASKED

How many teams have played in the Premier League?

With Cardiff, Swansea and Doncaster enjoying decent starts to their Championship campaigns, there's a chance that, next season, there could be a couple of new names added to those who have featured in the Premier League.

Forty-four teams have played in England's highest division since its inception in 1992, with Blackpool joining the ranks this season.

Only seven teams have featured in every season -- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Aston Villa. In terms of games played, Blackburn and Newcastle are next on the list.

The other 34 teams to have played are: Barnsley, Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Burnley, Charlton, Coventry, Crystal Palace, Derby, Fulham, Hull, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Oldham, Portsmouth, QPR, Reading, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Swindon, Watford, West Brom, West Ham, Wigan, Wimbledon and Wolves.

BET YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE

(IN ASSOCIATION WITH PAUL THE OCTOPUS)

NEWCASTLE 17/2 to beat Chelsea. The Carling Cup is a time when top teams are at their weakest and, while Northamptonwere 6/1 to be level with Liverpool at Anfield after 90 minutes, anybody who took up the generous odds on Newcastle to shock Chelsea had plenty to smile about.

Irish Independent

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