There is a hard luck story involving Darron Gibson and Twitter. While at Manchester United, the midfielder was urged to sign up to the social media network by his team-mates, only to be hounded off by belligerent fans. The popular theory has it that he received such a relentless torrent of abuse from fans of his own club that he disabled his account within two hours. The reality, however, was somewhat different. He actually received a modest number of messages that day: hostile though they may have been, we’re talking a dozen or so, rather than the hundreds that may have been implied by tabloid schadenfreude. So while Gibson may well have felt chased away, presumably having received a pop-up message on his BlackBerry each time someone tweeted him, the problem can really be surmised by deducing that Gibson just didn’t know how to alter the notification settings on his phone.
This anecdote would serve as a fitting epitaph for his Old Trafford career – eager to impress, lacking the equipment to do so, provocatively thin-skinned. He would join Everton in the January 2012 transfer window, nine months after the Twitter mini-deluge. A rudimentary internet forum browse-about for both clubs at the time would reveal contrasting responses from the two camps, with United fans delighted to offload some deadweight, and Everton fans deeply underwhelmed.
Gibson has always been difficult to appreciate, with his pathological propensity to SHOOOOT, unusual spelling of his christian name, and curiously balding head like an anti-Zinedine Zidane. But there is also an admirably stubborn sense of self-belief. In September he withdrew from the Republic of Ireland squad for games against Oman and Kazakhstan in protest over a lack of involvement at Euro 2012. Prior to that, he once scoffed at the notion of moving to “a club like Stoke” after Giovanni Trappatoni urged him to seek first-team football for the good of his international career. A £4million move to Sunderland fell apart when he failed to agree personal terms, before he joined Everton six months later for less than a quarter of that sum.
Presumably he’s now happier at a ‘club like Everton’, where he has sired one of those unlikely viral statistics that sweep amongst football fans every so often like a winter vomiting bug. As of January 1 2013, Gibson had played 50 Premier League fixtures for both United and Everton and lost only four of them – and just once for Everton, after he was withdrawn early through injury against West Brom. Such curious facts can often betray reality, but perhaps there is more to Gibson than those vociferous United tweeters would have admitted. Phil Neville welcomed the Irishman’s transfer at the time by declaring it “one of the snips of the century”. Andre-Villas Boas has cited him as “a player of immense talent”, and Everton fans have been won over by his passing range and honest graft.
Such comments still seem anomalous, and the idea of Gibson as anything other than a laughing stock is entirely at odds with the reputation he’s acquired. Much has been made over the years of Alex Ferguson’s history of mis-steps in the transfer market, but such discussion tends to focus on players bought rather than sold. In the mid-to-late Nineties, Ferguson had a knack of cashing in on mediocre players by exploiting a post-Fergie Fledglings premium – the utterly forgettable likes of Jon Macken, Terry Cooke and Mark Wilson all commanded fees in excess of £1 million. In recent years, it has been suggested that Ferguson may have developed a worrying tendency to release the wrong talents, with former United youngsters Gerard Pique, Guiseppe Rossi and Paul Pogba all thriving in La Liga and Serie A. Having unfairly been written off as another dud from a production line still judged by the spectacular 1992 vintage of Beckham, Giggs and Scholes, Gibson appears to be defying expectation by showing signs that he could subvert the notion that the only way to go from Manchester United is down.
Phil Jagielka has described Gibson’s precise worth to Everton, hailing his understated “quarterback” passing ability: “Gibbo is massively important [and] not what you’d describe as a Fancy Dan sort of player”. This is a comment which illustrates his value amongst his new team-mates, while perhaps clarifying what failed to distinguish him amongst his old ones. At Old Trafford the Fancy Dan is king, and it seems somehow appropriate that Gibson is winning over fans at the same time that Michael Carrick, a similarly understated and metronomic midfield presence, is finally receiving wider acclaim for his role at United. Gibson’s failure to supplant Carrick, himself a divisive figure, in the United team, would’ve been viewed dimly by the Irishman’s many detractors.
Chances are, however, that critics of what Gibson brings to the table may well take a similarly dim view of Carrick’s oeuvre, hard as it might be to appreciate. Eric Cantona once damned Didier Deschamps with faint praise by describing his French team-mate as a ‘water carrier’. Nowadays, players of that ilk are simply called boring, or worse, simply inept. In an age where we are spoilt by the state-of-the-art duelling of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, two of the all-time greats, it has never been more offensive to be boring.
What Gibson needed most is exactly what Everton has given him. He needed the opportunity to demonstrate the value of his consistency, as Jagielka notes: “If you filmed his role in the team and watched it back there’d be some fantastic passes, great tackles and some clever football.” This groundswell of opinion has spread to YouTube, where one Everton fan has taken the trouble of doing just that, compiling clips of Gibson’s touches in games against Tottenham and Manchester City to illustrate his quality. It is a testament to his reinvention that his imminent return from injury is being seen as a potentially key factor in Everton’s push for a top four finish. Whether they manage it or not remains to be seen, but nobody will doubt that Gibson has done his bit.
In any event, he would eventually rejoin Twitter on September 24th 2012. He received a warm welcome from Everton fans, and currently has over 60,000 followers.