Darron Gibson’s very public argument with Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni over his role in the national team offers plenty of insight into the midfielder’s state of mind. Gibson says that he is not ready to step down a level to get more game time. The Italian coach, meanwhile, says that the Manchester United player must add to his game.
Perhaps each is right but Gibson is the party who stands to gain most from heeding the advice of a genuine coaching legend.
Turning 23 next month, Gibson is no longer the callow youth, although the player’s limited experience to date – just 21 starts with United – tells a slightly different story. But the player has enough attributes for United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to have fought to keep the Derry-born midfielder at the club when his contract ran out last summer.
After a mediocre spell on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers during the 2007/8 season, Gibson returned to Old Trafford making just nine starts the following season. Departure seemed inevitable until Ferguson’s late-summer intervention. Last season, 12 starts, with 23 games in all and five goals tells a story of some progression at least.
Some say it is time for the player to repay that faith at club and international level. Indeed, Gibson has reached a turning point in his career. Perhaps critical even. If the midfielder, who has built a reputation for spectacular long-range shooting, cannot make it at Old Trafford now, he may never do so.
Yet the month-long dispute with the Irish management offers some insight both into the player’s technical shortcomings and his state of mind. After all he is now on the sidelines for both club and country.
“Gibson is a young player but maybe he needs to improve more in terms of putting pressure on the opposition,” said Trappatoni’s assistant Marco Tardelli last month, who has picked the Irish team after his manager’s recent operation.
“It’s understandable why this is so because he plays for Manchester United and that’s different to playing for Stoke because you are attacking more whereas with Stoke, or a team outside the big four, you always have to put men under pressure to win possession.”
It’s a suggestion that summarises the core argument of Gibson’s critics. The midfielder, so say those most frustrated with him, is too flash, too young. Almost as if he has already bought into unjustified hype, based not on consistency of performance but isolated incidents of the spectacular that has masked failures in the mundane.
True, Gibson has already scored both the breathtaking and the important for United in his short career to date. None more so than the clean strike that put Ferguson’s team into the lead against Bayern Munich is last year’s Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford. But the player’s inconsistent passing and first touch are matched by a casual approach that is rarely tolerated by the Old Trafford crowd.
“What I told him was that, for him, the action is not finished when he does not have the ball,” said Trapattoni yesterday.
“I told him that in this great team (United) it is not easy to play in this situation because he plays with ten great players and when these great players have the ball they play.
“He must ask for the ball, he must want the ball. That is important. He has to work to get the ball. He has fantastic vision and the long ball and he has a good personality with the ball.”
Roy Keane’s long-standing assertion that hard work comes first, then talent takes over is even more applicable to those on the team’s edge. Gibson should take heed.
Yet, Gibson’s dismissive reaction to legitimate criticism from Ireland’s team management has bordered on the arrogant and is unlikely to attract a positive response. It is not the first time that the midfielder has courted controversy.
“If Trapattoni wants me to move on from a club like Manchester United to better my game, move to somewhere like Stoke where I’ll get more games but have little chance of winning anything, then I just don’t know,” said Gibson.
“At what club, other than Manchester United, could I go to improve my game? To be honest, if he’s trying to say that I should move somewhere like Stoke City and change my game to winning tackles and not winning games, then he’s having a laugh.
“To move on from Manchester United just doesn’t make sense to me.”
It’s an attitude many United supporters will endorse. After all, they say the only way is down when a player leaves the club. But for Gibson, who is yet to make it in the game, his dismissal of advice from one of the world’s great coaches is a genuine concern.
He need not leave Old Trafford but Gibson must work harder at his game than those with greater natural talent. Perhaps Darren Fletcher’s is the example that the Irishman should follow most keenly. From pariah cruelly dubbed ‘The Scottish Player’ to, quite literally, United’s most important midfielder in 200 games.
Gibson could yet make it. Judging by recent comments, the only person holding him back is the midfielder himself.