United midfielder fails audition to play starring role at Theatre of Dreams
Darron Gibson this week had the perfect opportunity to justify his angry, even derisive reaction to suggestions from Giovanni Trapattoni that, for him, Old Trafford might prove not to be a theatre of dreams but of disillusionment.
Along with nearly an entire team of young Manchester United wannabes, he had the chance to prove that he is doing more than marking time in the shadow of the club's big-name players.
Gibson did earn attention, with his trademarked speculative shooting, as United floundered against the steeply banked defence of Rangers in the opening Champions League action, but he was only deluding himself if he thought this represented significant progress in his attempt to win a more permanent place near the important action.
The truth was that even if Trapattoni subsequently attempted to dilute his remarks, the essence of them was far from convincingly rejected when United failed to create a single opening of anything like creative distinction against a team who came to Old Trafford so fearfully, they neglected to muster a semblance of attack.
Gibson fired his long shots and, in truth, they were the nearest United came to a breakthrough, especially one that whipped narrowly the wrong side of a post, but his manager Alex Ferguson later bleakly conceded his disappointment at the lack of real control and penetration displayed throughout his young team.
Gibson did what he was expected to do. But ultimately he did it without success and -- frankly -- convincing evidence that there was much more to his game than a strong shooting foot and a more than average streak of optimism.
What Trapattoni didn't begin to retract was the core of his argument: that Gibson needs more regular involvement at the top of the game -- he was getting his first start of the season on Tuesday night -- and that without it his graduation as a top player has to be in doubt. Gibson is not some raw apprentice now.
He will be 23 next month, an age when most football talents have been significantly formed. Against Rangers, Gibson displayed plenty of that optimism of youth, but not so much of that knowing instinct of a budding Roy Keane.
True, this is to the set bar extremely high, but then what does Gibson truly expect of himself when he turns up his nose at the possibility of developing his career in a place like Stoke City.
Gibson mocked the idea that he could learn more in the Potteries than in Manchester, but the reality in his current situation is that a real education is beginning to look elusive. Trapattoni's most bracing comment on this came with his declaration: "What I told him was that for him the action is not finished when he does not have the ball."
The majority of the time, it was against Rangers. Most depressing for Ferguson was that in the absence of stalwart midfield masters Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs United were guileless both on and off the ball.
Javier Hernandez was almost as invisible as an insipid, care-worn Wayne Rooney. Ferguson said that if he had one selection regret it was that he hadn't played Dimitar Berbatov, whose early season form has been promising to bring some sharp re-consideration of the view that he was becoming one of Ferguson's rare transfer follies.
"He would have that sharpness that might have been the difference with Rangers putting so many bodies behind the ball," said Ferguson. "We just didn't have enough of the right movement to break down Rangers. We knew what they would do, but we just couldn't come up with anything to break them down."
Of course, Gibson's responsibility might easily be over-stated, at least in terms of the club if not himself. The far more experienced Darren Fletcher, Ji Sung Park and, before his sickeningly random injury, Antonio Valencia, were equally unsuccessful in their attempts to coherently break down the Rangers cover.
This, however, was a rare opportunity for Gibson to prove that he has credentials to take him beyond such players as Fletcher, Park and Michael Carrick and get to the head of the queue that still forms, when it truly matters, behind Scholes and Giggs.
Trapattoni, whatever the degree of his intention, had certainly presented the challenge clearly enough to the not-so-young man from Derry.
It was to show that when the chance came he could prove that he was ready to take it, not just as an occasional performer at the centre of the big stage, but someone integral to the club's needs.
It is a challenge that mounting evidence suggests would be more accessible at a place like Stoke City. This is the reality rather than the dream and, sooner or later, may be forced on Gibson with or without a choice.