By the time you read this I may well be tucking into a nice fat slice of humble pie with a side portion of my own words whilst wiping the egg from my face. If Darron Gibson starts, and plays well against A.C Milan then the answer to my question will undoubtedly be ‘yes’ and I’ll be forced to run off with my tail between my legs- right that’s enough embarrassment metaphors for now. The reason I query Gibson’s value to the Manchester United side is that I’m not so sure that he is truly is good enough to be part of the Premier League champion’s midfield. This may sound a little harsh given the fact that he’s only young and has been on the score sheet several times already during his United career not to mention the fact he’s lifted two League Cups in as many years and managed to bag himself a handful of Irish caps to boot. However, allow me to explain my concerns. Carrick’s ban means there’s the distinct possibility Gibson may start against Milan if Fergie decides he wants to stick with Rooney upfront on his own as he has done for all the big games of late, and regardless of the lead United take into the second leg, there can be no doubt that it’s going to be an almighty test.
Gibson has been an important part of the United squad this season, not just in the cup competitions but also in the Premier League where he’s made ten appearances, half of which have been as substitute. Gibson really made his mark in the quarter-final of the Carling cup where he bagged a brace against Spurs, then followed this up with his first League goal of the campaign a few days later. It seemed that Gibson may have been making a bid to become Scholes’s heir apparent and the press were quick to point out that he may be able to fill that void when the time comes, particularly following the West Ham away game where they were both on the score sheet. Since then though Gibson’s chances have been limited and he’s yet to have a steady run in the side as Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher have started to look like a real midfield unit.
Whenever Gibson has been called upon his performances have been a little inconsistent at best, with his fondness for shooting almost anytime he’s near the opposition area often becoming a little frustrating. There’s also the fact that at 22, Gibson can no longer be classed in the same bracket as Macheda or Welbeck as he’s getting to that age where you think it could already be make or break time this season in terms of his United career. With news that Owen Hargreaves may be actually, making a return, potentially, to playing for the first team, perhaps, some time in the near future, possibly, then Gibson really needs to stake his claim of being good enough to stay at Old Trafford.
Without going into the stats, and how many passes, assists, shots or whatever Gibson has actually made, one of the most noticeable things about him when you actually watch him play is his size. Far from being fat, he’s a big lad who doesn’t seem to be the quickest player on the park and is not going to give you the sort of engine you’d get from a Fletcher, Hargreaves or even an Anderson. Gibson seems closer to Michael Carrick in that he often picks out passes over varying ranges rather than running about like a terrier. The one thing that Gibson has over his Geordie colleague is that he’s not afraid to have a shot, something that Carrick can often be criticised for not doing enough of. Shooting’s all well and good of course as long as some of them go in but lately he seems to be reminding me more and more of Anderson in the shooting stakes, although that’s probably a bit harsh as he does test the keeper every now and again, something the Brazilian could never be accused of.
Gibson’s on a contract until 2012 so there may be the feeling among the Old Trafford coaching staff that even if this season is only so-so for him, next season he’ll be able to step it up a notch and become the player he’s shown signs of being. However you only need to ask Frazier Campbell to know that just because you’re young on a contract and have shown glimpses of real ability doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be shipped off to a lower club if Sir Alex feels the money’s right or you’re not quite United class.
If Gibson does start against Milan and produces a man-of-the-match performance culminating in David Beckham swapping shirts with him at the final whistle in a ‘the torch has been passed’ type of gesture then I’ll be left to try and take my foot out of my mouth- sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. However if as I suspect and I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling, Gibson produces something of a lacklustre showing then it may be the game which his United career struggles to recover from.
Alternatively, Fergie may decide to start with Berbatov and not play Gibson at all. In that scenario I feel that the Irishman would be something of a loser, as with Carrick then returning from his ban, Giggs coming back from his injury and Hargreaves, maybe, possibly, potentially, returning for the run-in, he may have to wait until next season to show his worth. Let’s just hope for him, that by then it isn’t too late.
Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’