With all the fanfare around Antonio Valencia’s summer move to Manchester United, you would be forgiven if Gabriel Obertan crept under your radar. The winger who cost £3m was signed from Bordeaux on the recommendation of former United player and Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc and was largely unknown as the public sought a replacement for the irreplaceable Cristiano Ronaldo.
For all his qualities it quickly became apparent that Valencia would not fill the gap left by the departing Portuguese star. Although getting off to a decent start notching various assists and goals he just didn’t excite like Ronaldo. Not many can. Ask Nani, who seems able to provoke awe and frustration in equal amounts and just can’t step out of his fellow country man’s shadow.
Just as Old Trafford had passed judgement on Valencia, they were ready to pass judgement on Obertan when news broke that he would be out for 6 weeks with a back injury that he had been carrying since his time in France. In this six weeks Obertan was forgotten amongst the drama of United’s premiership campaign but when the time came for Obertan to pull on the United shirt and make his debut in the reserves against Oldham Athletic and the wait was well worth it.
Obertan’s pace, off ball running and dribbling were a joy to watch and he even had time to produce a YouTube moment with a cheeky no look pass. United won 3-0 and United’s fans appetite’s had been whetted as they wondered if Obertan was a young pretender or the real deal.
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They would not have to wait long for an answer as Obertan put in a string of positive displays for the reserves against Scottish outfit Clyde and Blackburn Rovers before making his senior debut starting against Barnsley in the Carling Cup. Again he didn’t fail to disappoint.
With a jinking run down the right wing, Obertan won a corner that Anderson whipped into the box for an unmarked Danny Welbeck to nod in and hand United an early lead. Obertan continued to impress in the game running the wings and almost getting an assist when he sailed in a cross to Welbeck, which he nodded just wide.
A few days later Obertan was called upon to make his premier league debut against Blackburn. Coming off the bench he was offered two chances to mark his debut with a goal, but twice the occasion seemed to get to him as he had an effort save and dragged a shot wide. For his two misses Obertan had still showed enough to excite Old Trafford and was again included in the senior squad for the visit of CSKA Moscow.
With United 3-1 down Obertan was thrown into the mix and his play down the left wing as well as his link up play with fellow substitute Patrice Evra was an encouraging sight. He did not seem out of his depth in the Champions League and particularly exciting was the fact he was willing to run at opposition players. His 8 minute cameo was an assured one as he displayed class and calm.
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It may be premature to start crowning the Frenchman heir to the throne Ronaldo vacated but if he continues to put in exciting performances as he has, I for one can’t see why he can’t attempt to rise to similar the heights. He clearly has ability and provokes an excitement when he picks up the ball and runs with it that a young Ronaldo did in his early years at Old Trafford. For £3m, it appears that Fergie has got himself a steal.