In March 2017, Ben Gibson received his maiden call-up to the England senior squad. The former Middlesbrough man was enjoying another solid season at the heart of the Boro defence, and at just 24 years of age looked to have a stellar career ahead of him.
However, after moving to Burnley in 2018, Gibson has made just one league appearance in the last two seasons and is suddenly in severe danger of wasting an immense amount of potential.
Now 27, the Burnley defender has been hotly tipped to leave Turf Moor this summer, having spent the majority of the year training with Middlesbrough.
However, with Leicester City understood to have reignited their interest in Clarets defender James Tarkowski, it remains to be seen whether Sean Dyche will offer Gibson a lifeline at the club. But one thing’s for sure - the defender’s decision this summer will make or break his career.
Gibson showed incredible loyalty to Middlesbrough after the club was relegated in 2017. Despite receiving international recognition just two months prior, the local boy opted not to move to a Premier League side – despite numerous offers – and dropped down to the Championship.
However, after the club failed to achieve promotion at the first time of asking, Gibson decided he had to move on in order to pursue his England dreams, and he left for Burnley with the blessing of the Boro faithful.
The move seemed a smart one at the time – Dyche had a performed wonders in securing a Europa League place the season prior, and the development of players like Tarkowski and Ben Mee had seen them tipped for international recognition themselves.
However, two years on and Gibson has failed to displace either of the aforementioned stalwarts.
The reason why remains unclear; it may be a simple case of Dyche being reticent to play two left-footed centre-backs – with club captain Mee already occupying the left-sided berth – however, the former Middlesbrough man certainly hasn’t helped his cause in posting pictures of himself clad in full Boro kit on social media.
Should he choose to move on this summer, the likely destination looks to be the Championship, with newly-relegated Norwich City said to be keen on securing his signature along with previous employers Middlesbrough.
Gibson undoubtedly played the best football of his career during Boro’s promotion campaign of 2015/16. Under Aitor Karanka, the Teessiders boasted the best defensive record in the top four divisions, and the local lad clearly thrived in a well organised, rigid formation.
Current Boro boss Neil Warnock is the closest Boro have had to a manager of Karanka’s ilk since the Spaniard’s departure in 2017. Renowned for his defensive solidarity and no-nonsense style of play, were Gibson to move back to the Riverside it could be exactly the sort of platform he needs to rebuild his career.
On the other hand, Norwich’s current setup offers very different prospects. While Daniel Farke’s ethos would see Gibson given the chance to display his footballing ability – something he has plenty of - the German is far less defensively astute.
Even in the Canaries’ Championship winning season of 2018/19, Farke’s expansive style of play saw his side concede 57 goals – five more than 16th placed Stoke City – while some of the defending on display in their following Premier League campaign proved to be utterly abject.
Should Gibson opt for a move to Carrow Road, his other major concern will yet again be game time. The 27-year-old has made just six appearances in all competitions in the last two years, and with Norwich looking for an immediate top-flight return and already well-stocked in central defence, Gibson may again find himself on the sidelines.
However, with Dael Fry looking set to move on Middlesbrough are in dire need of defensive reinforcements, and with no such lofty ambitions at a club looking to embark on a rebuild, Gibson’s hometown club could be the perfect destination as he looks to get a foothold back in the game.
Whatever the Burnley man chooses to do this summer, his decision will have a huge impact on the rest of his career, and should he opt to stay at Turf Moor if Tarkowski does move on, he’s in grave danger of once again being afforded a watching brief if Dyche looks to reinvest.