Darron Gibson escapes Roy Keane's shadow
Published 14/01/2012 | 00:01
"What he doesn't need is comparisons with Roy Keane. Let him be his own man."
Such was the counsel Sammy McIlroy imparted to Darron Gibson a little over two years ago.
And, though the future looked bright then -- the Derry man had just excelled in the Carling Cup against Wolves -- his arrival yesterday at Everton, for £500,000 on a four-and-a-half-year deal that might eventually be worth just £2m to Manchester United, suggested McIlroy had been right to urge restraint.
There was no disguising how miserable the dog days of a United career had become for Gibson, the man who so impressed McIlroy that he tried to persuade him to play for his native Northern Ireland, only to see the player slip through his grasp by moving directly from Northern Ireland U-16s to a place in the Republic of Ireland senior squad.
"I was not getting a chance at United. I was playing games here and there, which I wasn't really enjoying," Gibson said. "It was time for me to move on."
Pressed to elaborate, he retracted those words.
"I didn't say I wasn't enjoying it," he said. "The thing that was not enjoyable was playing one week then being left out for five or six games."
The burden of filling the Paul Scholes-sized hole is one many have felt.
Tom Cleverley has that role now and has been cast by some as United's saviour after a mere six starts.
Gibson knows that a chill wind blows for those not up to it. He is the man who lasted 97 minutes on Twitter last year, before the abuse prompted him to close his account, and whose final ignominy came last Sunday, when Alex Ferguson deemed a 37-year-old Scholes, seven months into retirement, a better bet than the Irish international against Manchester City in the FA Cup third round.
"Yeah, it was a bit disappointing but I knew before then that it was time for me to move on," reflected Gibson, who knew his fate was sealed when Ferguson called him in last summer.
The United manager was determined that he should head to Sunderland along with Wes Brown and John O'Shea, but a failure to agree terms, followed by a pre-season ankle injury, delayed his exit.
There was a recompense about Gibson's United bow, after only 37 starts in six years since emerging from the youth ranks, coming in the 5-0 St Stephen's Day annihilation of Wigan Athletic.
Then came the controversial night out with Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans. Gibson revealed that Rooney had helped convince him that joining Everton would be a good move for his career.
"I was speaking to Wayne about it a bit and after that, and coming to see the facilities, it was an easy decision," said Gibson.
"He told me it was a great club and he really enjoyed his time and the people here.
"Having a word with him and people like Tim Cahill and Phil Neville convinced me to come.
"When Scholesy came back, the manager told me I was free to go. Everton had shown some interest a month beforehand so it went from there.
"I think it was the right time for me to move on and I'm really looking forward to kicking on now.
"I have been at United since I was 15 so this is the first proper move I have had. It is very exciting.
"I'm 24 and I think I need to be playing as many games as I can -- nearly every week, really," he added.
Gibson is known for being able to find the net and work the goalkeeper, and that is something Everton desperately need.
"Hopefully I can get a few goals. I've scored with a few long-range shots -- I don't think I've scored one inside the box to be honest. If I score goals, it's a bonus for me. I'm just looking to do as well as I can for the team.
"I have not had a proper run of games so when I get into the swing of things I hope to bring a lot of things to the team," he said.
Gibson hopes that his relocation to Goodison Park will boost his chances of being on the Ireland plane for Poland.
"I wasn't playing at United which meant it was hard for the international manager to pick me," he said. "But once I start playing here, hopefully he'll pick me."
Everton manager David Moyes, whose eye for a good United player is self-evident in the cases of Phil Neville and Tim Howard, said he had "always had our eye on Gibson because he can pass it well".
Moyes added: "He's also got a goal in him and now that he's here I'll be expecting those things from him and more."
Gibson certainly has unleashed a thunderbolt right-foot shot and a strong tackle down the years, and his passing range and quality is accompanied by that ability to move the ball with his head up, while sizing up the game. That's a rarer commodity than perhaps it should be.
Where he has sometimes lacked the United marque is in his mobility across the turf and it should be said that Ferguson has given him a few years to prove an ability to stamp his mark on a game.
Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni hailed Gibson's decision to join Everton and suggested it was about time the 24-year-old left United.
"Can I say... at last," said Trapattoni, with a smile, when asked about the transfer. "Darron has been on the bench, but this is good.
"He has good quality. He is a strong player, with good shooting ability, and I think at this stage of his career, he can play 90 minutes. I am happy that he can show that he is ready for us," added the Irish manager.
Moyes says there is a real "hunger" in Gibson and has included the new recruit in his squad for today's Premier League meeting with Aston Villa, where there could be a host of Irishmen on show.
With Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin injured, Moyes should find a place in his defence for another son of Derry, 20-year-old Shane Duffy.