Saturday 24 March 2018

‘I’m nearly 23 and I need to be playing ... but I want to be first choice’

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"I don't really like doing interviews," admits Darron Gibson with a smile, perhaps grasping the irony of the situation.

He's sitting in a Manchester hotel, wearing an EA Sports hoodie, at the start of an afternoon where he is being paid to answer a variety of questions. The kind of gig that comes with the territory when you play for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Should the talented midfielder fulfil his lifelong ambition and become a real part of the furniture at Old Trafford, then suffocating attention will follow.

The thing is, contrary to popular perception, the Derry lad is confident when he relaxes into discussion. Sure, he is a product of the Manchester United school of media training, suitably suspicious and cautious when a thorny issue arises. A skilful use of deliberate pauses.

Nevertheless, in the space of 25 minutes, the 22-year-old manages to discuss the travails of Wayne Rooney, tackle his misunderstanding with Giovanni Trapattoni, write off the title chances of Manchester City and outline the pressures of parenthood. Without a scowl in sight.


"I wouldn't say I'm naturally shy, but I'd rather not be in the spotlight all the time," Gibson says. "I try to keep away from it.

"Scholesy and Giggsy have managed to do it. Gary Neville, even Nicky Butt, Roy Keane. They all managed to do it. The group of them stuck together and didn't really party and that's what I would like to do as well if I make it as far in my career as they've done."

He knows the pitfalls. All he has to do is look at the soap opera otherwise known as the life of Rooney, who is two years his senior but operates in a different sphere. Becoming a father failed to curb his occasional excesses.

For Gibson, however, the arrival of his daughter Evie, now 15 months old, has settled him down; a life-changing moment he believes has furthered his development as he seeks to win a more prominent place in Alex Ferguson's affections and team selections.

"I've got no choice now," he says. "I don't really have any time to go out. It's changed massively for me. Jesus, it's hard work, I tell you. My girlfriend (Danielle) does most of it, but it's still hard work for me, although I'm obviously enjoying it.

"It's probably the best thing that has happened to me so far because it's stopped me going out. It calmed me down a lot and helped me concentrate a lot more on my football because I've got something to look after."

Gibson is sure it's only a matter of time before Rooney is terrorising defences again, and asserts that the England star continues to shine on the training ground. He concedes that a combination of an underwhelming World Cup experience and recent revelations about his off-the-field behaviour have taken their toll.

"I think it's just a slight confidence issue from the World Cup that he's brought back with him," he says. "He's just having a bad patch with his form.

"The recent scandal -- if you like -- in the papers didn't do him any favours. It probably did put a lot of stress on him. I don't really want to talk about it but, obviously, that could be part of the reason why he's not playing well.

"But he's the same person he was around the training ground. He's training well, and it's just a matter of time before he's scoring goals again."

Goals. Gibson's propensity to hit the back of the net is the greatest weapon in his armoury with a view to achieving his targets of the long-term variety.

Ten years from now, he'd like to think he could reflect on a career with plenty of medals, and experience of a World Cup and European Championship with Ireland. He is certain that staying at Manchester United is the optimum route towards ticking those boxes.

Last season represented real progress. After shunning another chance to go on loan, he was involved in 23 games in all competitions, scoring five times.

Significantly, he was pitched in for Premier League and Champions League matches of real importance, scoring in the Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich when he was deployed in an advanced midfield role.

Frustratingly, in the wake of such a serious step forward, he has returned to the fringes for the early part of this campaign, and wasn't even in the squad for the weekend draw at Bolton.

Later this evening, he will learn if he will figure in tomorrow's Champions League clash with Valencia. A busy schedule of matches ahead should guarantee a certain amount of game time yet he remains a member of the supporting cast rather than a galactico.

Would it be better to line out week in, week out elsewhere, a move that would aid his prospects of a regular start for his country?

He doesn't think so, while acknowledging that his lack of experience has resulted in a drop down pecking order behind Paul Green in Trapattoni's thoughts.

"I'm nearly 23 and I need to be playing games. There is a lot of pressure at Manchester United. The manager can't really afford to throw me in; if we lose I'll get the blame for it," he declares, before clarifying that quite dramatic statement.

"I don't think I'd get the blame totally. But if you start to play young players for experience when you've got the likes of Giggs and Scholes, people start to ask questions.

"You can only get so much experience from sitting on the bench. You need to play eventually. But the way I see it, if I go in there, score as many goals as I can, play as well as I can every time I play, I think I'll be a valuable asset. I'd rather be first choice every week. It's going to take me a while to get there, so I'm not going to give up on it.

"I think I'll win more medals at Manchester United than anywhere else and, obviously, if I'm playing for Manchester United then I'll play for Ireland as well."

It would be foolish to set public deadlines so, for now, he's content enough to be patient. For both club and country, exciting and pivotal games lie on the horizon.

Gibson expects another title battle with Chelsea, believing that the blue half of Manchester will have to wait a few years before they can start thinking about lifting the trophy.

"It'll take them a while to gel together properly," he argues.

With the international double-header with Russia and Slovakia less than a fortnight away, it's a hectic period on all fronts. Alas, he's resigned to a place on the bench for those encounters and unsure of whether he will have added to his two minutes of Premier League action this term in the interim.

The prodigious youth, tipped for greatness since his baby steps on Foyleside, is closer to the elite level of the game than any other Irish player of the new generation. After coming this far, he's not prepared to walk away. Not even for the quiet life.

  • Darron Gibson is an ambassador for EA SPORTS FIFA 11, which is out in stores on October 1.

Irish Independent

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