By Tom Bell.
Manchester United announced the surprise relatively small fee signing of winger Gabriel Obertan on the 8th of July 2009, Just two days after French sports newspaper l’equipe reported an agreement had been made between Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux and United.
Obertan arrived in Manchester with a hat full of promise and clutching a graduation certificate from the famous French football school INF Clairefontaine – the most famous of around twelve elite footballing institues across France. Famous alumni include Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, former United striker Louis Saha, William Gallas, Sebastian Bassong, Hatem Ben Arfa and Abou Diaby. All of which so far (bar Ben Arfa) have proved they can play in the Premiership. The same, sadly, cannot be said for our 6”1 French winger of the same pedigree.
Obertan made his Man United debut against Oldham in the Senior Cup contributing to a 3-0 win, three months after signing due to a spinal injury he’d apparently been suffering for the last 18 months. He went on to play in the league cup against Barnsley in a 2-0 win. He was handed his debut against Blackburn in the league during a 2-0 win over our East Lancashire neighbours.
It wasn’t just United fans who were surprised to see us sign the Frenchman for an estimated £3m, his manager at the time of the transfer, former United centre-half Laurent Blanc commented to press how the transfer came as a “surprise” given Obertan’s progression at the club, he was loaned out to FC Lorient for half a season in order to gain first team experience. Blanc revealed at the time of transfer that Obertan must “overcome psychological and mental challenges if he is to express his true value”.
Whether Blanc means immaturity, arrogance, confidence or any other external problems is something we’ll never truly know. However, it’s relatively safe to say that either Obertan has not overcome such problems, or his potential was never really designed to flourish in the physicality of the Premiership.
It could well be a combination of any of the aforementioned potential disruptions but we must be blunt and say the following:
We’re one of, if not the world’s best team, we’re top of the league, we’re odds-on favourites to be walking out on to the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium come Saturday the 28th of May to play either Barcelona or Madrid in the Champions League Final and we haven’t even been at our best the majority of the season. Gabriel Obertan surely must step up to the plate and deliver; otherwise, I feel he’ll meet the same fate as the likes of David Bellion, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller and Kleberson.
If you were to go on YouTube, you could easily be convinced that Obertan is the next big thing, as you’ll see many a video hailing him to be the new Ronaldo. However you must remember every time United announce a new signing, we get hoards of fans posting videos of them to be the new Manchester United wonderkid, or new number 7. The majority of these fans live in a football manager bubble and post these videos despite never actually likely to have seen them play (Cough Zoran Tosic, cough Dong Fangzhou!) Most videos of Obertan in the United shirt show him in the reserves, a sad truth for a player with such reported potential. The ones of him in the first team, such as against Wolves and Wolfsburg show Obertan’s highlights. Often his eagerness to take on a player shows him to run into trouble; however he does show individual snippets of brilliance, such as his assist for one of three Michael Owen goals away at Wolfsburg. It would be easy to compare him to Ronaldo or Nani in their first couple of seasons, simply because he shows a willingness to attack, a useful burst of pace and competent with each foot.
However, I’m a little more reserved in his case. Ronaldo and Nani were given many more chances in the first team following their transfers, Obertan has not, yes he has been injured but he has found himself playing in the reserves against much less skilled fullbacks, far, far more than his Portuguese counter-parts ever did. That fact in itself could well be a statement of its own. On the other hand, Fergie and his backroom staff could be biding their time with our young French winger, waiting for a build-up of confidence or getting back to full match fitness. We will never truly know.
In all fairness, Obertan has shown glimpses of magic and skill, he’s rapid when chasing a ball and more than eager to try and beat a man; something we can sometimes lack should we not have Nani or Antonio Valencia on the pitch. Obertan is still young and should probably be given a few more games to try and prove his worth, however if he continues to put in performances like he has -showing no real level of progression and failing to deliver, he should be shown the door, either temporarily or permanently. Understandably though, we’re at the business end of the season, chasing that 19th league title and what games we have are massively important, especially given the 0-0 draw at Newcastle last night.
Realistically, we won’t see much of Obertan before the end of the season but a decent pre-season (of course depending on transfer activity) may move him up the pecking order to find himself in the match squad list come the first month or two of the season.
How he turns out, considering his “huge potential” can only be found out in time, but sadly in this case, I feel he has little time and that can only be his own fault through his performances when he has played. I genuinely believe we’ll see little of Gabriel Obertan in the United shirt a’la Manucho or Dong. Breaking into the first team is a game of chance, and I feel for Mr Obertan, his chance has come and gone.
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