THE war of words has given way to peace in our time – Darron Gibson and Giovanni Trapattoni are once again singing from the same hymn sheet.
More or less.
The day after Ireland had beaten Armenia in their opening European Championship qualifier, Trapattoni talked up the somewhat dubious merits of Paul Green’s performance in that game and, when pressed as to whether Darron Gibson would make a better option, spoke at length about the player’s need to develop more bite. It was an attribute the manager suggested Gibson would be more likely to pick up playing regular first-team football.
By the time this was relayed to Gibson, it had been hardened into the manager saying that the player should leave Old Trafford for somewhere like Stoke, an idea which prompted the Derry man to fire back that Trapattoni must be “having a laugh.”
Fast forward another few days, and Trapattoni was insisting that his remarks had been misinterpreted, something with which Gibson – speaking in Manchester yesterday – now seems happy to go along.
“I spoke to him on the phone and everything’s fine,” he said. “It’s just the language barrier really. Sometimes he says something when he means something else.”
Gibson, who has been named in the squad for next month’s games against Russia and Slovakia – although he admits he doesn’t expect to start – says he was never concerned that the robust exchange of views may have threatened his Irish prospects. Indeed, he now concedes that, amidst all the confusion, he appreciates the merits of Trapattoni’s point of view.
“I can see where he’s coming from. I think it’s a mix-up over what was said. I don’t think he said I need to go on loan; he said it would be good for me to go on loan to somewhere like Stoke to learn a different style. I think in a way he’s right in what he’s saying but I think I can learn a lot at United. I think if I start playing every game I’ll play for Ireland every game. I’m just going to concentrate on getting into the Manchester United team.”
Although he has time on his side, the concern for Gibson must be that the emergence of Derby’s Green on the international stage has seen the Foylesider displaced to fourth in the midfield pecking order, having previously been the main understudy to Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan.
“I would have felt that was the case,” he agreed. “But things like that happen in football so you can either get on with it or sulk about it. I’ll be ready to take the chance when he puts me in. Paul Green’s a very good player, he’s proved that in the Championship. He’s scored a lot of goals and he’s playing every week which I’m not. So I can see why Trapattoni picked him.”
Does Gibson feel he must adapt his style to make a permanent breakthrough for Ireland?
“I think that when I play for Ireland I will have to adapt my game. Our defensive record’s very good and has been since Trapattoni came in. He likes his central midfielders to sit and not break forward as we do at United. So to get into the Ireland team I will have to adapt. But if it’s going to get me in the team and let me play for Ireland, I’ll be happy to do anything.”
He has to bide his time at Old Trafford too, despite a strong showing in the second half of last season.
“I was very happy with how it went. I think the manager was looking to send me on loan at the start of last season so, coming from possibly going on loan to playing in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Bayern Munich was a big step. I developed a lot last year, scored a few goals and I played more than I was expecting.”
Still, he admits it can be a test of patience waiting for evergreens like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs to show signs of wilting.
“You can only get so much experience from sitting on a bench. I’m taking it game-by-game. The way I see it, if I go in there, score as many goals as I can, play as well as I can every time I play, I think I’ll be a valuable asset to Man United. It’s not that I’m happy just to be part of the squad. You have to have players like that but I’d rather be first choice every week. It’s going to take me a while to get there but I’m not going to give up on it.”
Meantime, he continues to learn from the greats at Old Trafford even if one of the greatest, Wayne Rooney, is going through a barren patch on the pitch and a torrid one off it.
Indeed, news that the striker has been ruled out of tomorrow night’s Champions League game in Valencia could open up a midfield slot for Gibson who is among the travelling party flying out to Spain today.
“I think it’s just a slight confidence issue from the World Cup that he’s brought back with him,” Gibson observed of Rooney. “Although he’s been around a long time he’s still a young player and I think with young players form comes and goes. He’s just having a bad patch with his form. I’m sure it will come back.
“The recent scandal in the papers didn’t do him any favours. It probably did put a lot of stress on him. I don’t want to talk about it but that could be part of the reason why he’s not playing well. But he’s the same person he was around the training ground. He’s training well and it’s just a matter of time before he’s scoring goals again.”
Gibson admits that the celebrity aspect of a Premiership footballer’s life is not something with which he himself is comfortable.
“I do try to minimise it. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally shy, but I think I’d rather not be in the spotlight all the time. I’d rather just play my football and get on with it.
Almost an impossible task when you make your living in the Theatre of Dreams? “It is a bit but Scholesy and Giggsy have managed to do it. They’re great professionals, Giggsy, Scholesy, Gary Neville, even Nicky Butt and Roy Keane. They all managed to do it. I think it’s just the way they came through, the group of them stuck together and didn’t really party, they stayed out of the headlines and that’s what I would like to do as well.”
And it turns out that the bright lights of Manchester are even less tempting for Darron Gibson these days – and for a very persuasive reason.
“I’ve got no choice now, because I’ve got a little girl (15-month-old Evie), I don’t really have any time to go out,” he smiled. “It’s changed things massively. I don’t do much – my girlfriend (Danielle) does most of it – but it’s still hard for me. It has calmed me down and helped me concentrate more on my football because I’ve got something to look after.”
And when he looks ahead 10 years where would Darron Gibson, the footballer, like to be? “With a good career at Manchester United and hopefully, more than 50 caps for Ireland. Obviously, I’d love to play in a World Cup, and maybe even the European Championship and hopefully win as many medals as possible.”
* Darron Gibson is an ambassador for EA SPORTS FIFA 11 which is out in stores on Oct 1
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved