Wednesday 17 January 2018

Dinner date proves last supper in sorry tale of unrequited love

Dion Fanning

If English football has a heart, it will watch over Darron Gibson for the next few months.

Gibson's departure from Manchester United is not just another workaday transaction, a heartless act of commerce. No, it is an act of heartbreaking separation.

Gibson has been torn from the place he loves, a place he cherished with an irrational desire. In the face of all available evidence, Gibson hung tough at Manchester United, determined that he could make it work.

His friends must have been telling him to walk away, to go, walk out the door, that she would never love him the way he loved her. But driven demented by love and the chance of appearing in a Cup final suit or joining in the celebrations when United won the league, he stayed.

He will need watching over these next few months.

Perhaps he will take comfort from the feeling that his work is not yet done. Gibson could be a makeweight in a deal that hasn't happened yet. When Jack Rodwell joins Manchester United, Gibson can again claim to have played his part in the evolution of Manchester United. There's no reason for his contribution to diminish, merely because he is not a salaried employee of Manchester United.

He has been a Manchester United envoy rather than, in any meaningful way, a Manchester United player for some months. In that sense, very little will change,

Gibson's presence at Manchester United added weight to his other activities. The words 'Manchester United' in brackets after his name in the Ireland match programmes brought a certain stature to the Ireland squads, as well as being a comfort to those of us who like to see the great clubs of England represented in Irish squads.

With Gibson's departure, Manchester United are no longer among those names. It's the first time for over 50 years that an Irish manager hasn't been able to select a player from Manchester United so maybe that would have been some reason for Gibson to stay, not that he needed any persuading to stay.

His greatest contribution this season was off the field when he took part in the night out with Wayne Rooney which led to Rooney contributing to the servicing of the Manchester United debt. Rooney was fined and left out of the home defeat to Blackburn Rovers. Gibson was also left out of this game but nobody noticed that, aware that his contribution was unlikely to have made a difference to the result.

Gibson was part of many red letter days at Old Trafford: the home defeat to Crystal Palace this season; the home defeat to Leeds United last season.

To each of them, he brought what could be seen as his main characteristic -- an inability to make a difference.

This attribute was present even on his greatest night. When he set up one goal and scored another in the Champions League semi-final against Schalke last season, Manchester United were already coasting to the final.

Yet he retained a great and immovable pride in his status as a Manchester United player. Gibson's move to Sunderland collapsed last summer and with Steve Bruce's dismissal removing the obvious escape route from Old Trafford, Gibson looked like he was going to stick around.

He played in the humdrum victory against Wigan at Old Trafford over Christmas, a fixture which should no longer be billed as a competitive game. Until somebody can produce some compelling evidence to the contrary, it needs to form part of United's mid-season break.

High on the probability of that victory, Gibson went out for a meal with Rooney and Jonny Evans and was never seen in a United shirt again.

Again it demonstrated that he is not without influence even if that influence is usually to provoke a debate about United needing a new midfielder or indeed summoning an old one out of retirement. Perhaps it was Paul Scholes' return that finally persuaded Gibson that he would never get a chance.

There is undoubtedly a seductive power to Manchester United which caused Gibson to dismiss all previous suggestions that he should leave to further his career. He could have been forgiven for thinking that as he was at Manchester United, he had furthered his career.

So when he was quoted as saying that he didn't see any point in going to a club where he would win tackles but not win games, it was easy to see the draw of Manchester United.

Gibson's problem was that he was usually only in the proximity of those players winning matches. Now he might win fewer games, but at least he might do more to help win them.

Last weekend's Manchester derby illustrated the problems Manchester United have with Wayne Rooney and the problems Rooney has with Manchester United. When Rooney was picked again for the Newcastle game, he stumbled his way through it. A few days later, after a newspaper had suggested United could sell Rooney, Rooney was back. He scored with a header of pure desire, kissed his badge and asserted his alpha male personality.

In the second half, United showed that only Rooney and Ferguson possess those personalities at the club.

United are in a bind with Rooney, which may explain why Ferguson summoned the spirit of Paul Gascoigne.

There were a dozen better examples of players who need protection from the press but Gascoigne is the one who, according to myth, would have been saved if he had chosen United ahead of Tottenham.

The truth, then and now, is that nobody could save Paul Gascoigne. Ferguson has no need to engage in myth-making, but he sometimes does when he suggests he could have turned Gascoigne around. Management, he told Roy Keane, is about power and control. He would have been powerless over Gascoigne but that is not what he is now trying to control.

Rooney has the power and controls the destiny of this United side. Ferguson may have felt he had to do something to change that. Darron Gibson was just collateral damage.

dfanning@independent.ie

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