In Keane's footsteps: Gibson is United's latest hope tipped to fill Roy's boots

17 February 2009 03:31
It was perhaps symbolic that when Manchester United

's Darron Gibson made his first start for the Republic of Ireland last October, it was at the expense of another former Old Trafford midfielder, Liam Miller.

For where the likes of Miller and a host of other young midfielders have failed in recent years at United, it appears Gibson may be about to succeed.

At 21, Gibson has announced his arrival in Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team squad this season with goals in FA Cup victories at Southampton and at Derby at the weekend.

'Darron Gibson did really well on Sunday,' said United manager Ferguson yesterday.

'He has got into the Carling Cup final team with that performance. He has played in every round, so he deserves it.'

Young Roy? Gibson made his United debut aged 21, Keane (below right) aged 22, but the Forest recruit had already commanded a British record transfer fee of £3.75m

A Wembley start against Tottenham

on March 1 will certainly excite Gibson but, at a time when the United midfield continues to evolve, the young Irishman will realise that much more significant prizes are available in the long term.

Ferguson has tried a good number of players as he has sought to solve the 'Roy Keane problem' in recent seasons.

The likes of Miller, Alan Smith, foreign signings Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson were palpable failures as Ferguson sought a player to fill the hole left by his former captain, while the most recent recruit — £18million Owen Hargreaves — has seen his progress halted by knee problems.

Gibson, at the very least, would appear to have a chance. At 6ft 2in, he is, like Keane, a physically imposing figure with a thunderous shot and the fact that he was given a start in a relatively strong United team at Derby says much for his place in the pecking order at Old Trafford.

'People at Manchester United have a lot of faith in Darron,' said clubmate and international colleague John O'Shea. 'They have always believed in his ability and now people can see that.'

While young players from the neighbouring academy at Manchester City

have been given opportunities at tender ages, Gibson's football education came on loan, first at Royal Antwerp in Belgium and, last season, at Wolves in the Championship.

Indeed, had United not been so pro-active in their initial pursuit of the teenage Gibson, he may have joined a club from the second tier in the first place.

Gibson, born in Londonderry, revealed: 'United were actually the first club I said no to when I was a youngster. They asked me to come across and I said no because I was fed up of going here, there and everywhere for trials.

'There were agents phoning up the house all the time and my mum and dad were getting fed up.

'I had decided I would go either to Sunderland

or Leicester and nowhere else. But then one of the United scouts said I should really go over and play in a game on my birthday. They persuaded me so I went over and once I saw the place and met the people, I signed straight away.'

He arrived at Old Trafford six months after another bright, young Irish talent — Uniteddefender Jonny Evans, now 21. The two are close and go on holiday in the off-season.

Although Gibson was actually born in the north and played for Northern Ireland at Under 16 level, he elected to play for the Republic.

In a case that was ruled on by FIFA and discussed more than once at government level in Ireland, he invoked the terms of the Good Friday Agreement — it declares that anybody born in Northern Ireland is entitled to apply for Irish citizenship — to switch from north to south.

FIFA subsequently closed the loophole but Gibson's future appears secure with club and country.

Republic coach Giovanni Trapattoni appears to prefer Gibson ahead of Miller andSunderland's Andy Reid, while at Old Trafford moves are already afoot to secure him on a new contract that would afford him equal standing to his mate Evans.

It is no surprise he has already won over fans at United, a club who have been lucky enough to see arguably the two greatest Ulstermen, George Best and Norman Whiteside, pull on the famous red shirt.

Gibson added: 'The profile with Ireland did me good. When I got my chance with my country, I got it with my club.

'Fergie told me he watched the game against Cyprus and he thought I did well.'

Gibson may soon learn that referring to his manager by his nickname is not the way to get ahead at Old Trafford.

Nevertheless, it would appear to be the only mistake he has made this season.


Source: Daily_Mail