When Gabriel Obertan signed for Manchester United, little was known about the graduate of the prestigious Clairefontaine academy. Injury held the player back initially before a dash for the first team came last October. But generally since the player’s £3.5 million transfer from Girondins de Bordeaux at Old Trafford, little has been seen of the 21-year-old.
Turning 22 next February, it is an important time in the French under 21 international’s career. Like Federico Macheda and many others at the club, Obertan must now translate promise into reality if he is to win a long-term future at Old Trafford.
It should be the perfect time for Obertan to break into Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. The deeply unfortunate injury suffered by Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia against Rangers last month opened up a spot in Ferguson’s team. Fast-forward a month and there have still been no significant outings for the Frenchman save for a substitute appearance against Bursaspor this week.
After all Obertan’s competition is mixed at best. An ageing Ryan Giggs has been in and out of the United side with injuries, and even a fully fit Welshan cannot be expected to play more than a game a week.
South Korean Ji-Sung Park remains about as effective as England World Cup 2010 campaign. Park is lost, a man of whom much is expected but has proven undeniably useless when United’s need for creativity is most apparent this season. Park’s transformation from the player most-often seen in United’s crucial fixtures to desperately giving away the ball this season is stark.
Obertan is surely next in line but either Ferguson appears to have changed his mind on his acquisition, or he is biding his time and will introduce the Frenchman when he has no more cards to play.
After overcoming a back injury last season, Obertan has become a regular fixture for the reserve team. Playing either upfront or as a winger, the 21-year-old offers pace and dribbling ability. But despite featuring in the Carling Cup time against Scunthorpe United in September, he was immediately called back to play for the reserves.
Such a rapid demotion to the stiffs suggests Obertan is further away from the true first team picture than ever.
Obertan’s last memorable outing for the first team came during last season’s Champions League away trip to Wolfsburg, where he superbly set up Michael Owen to regain as United regained the lead.
The other memorable occasion for Obertan last season was an utterly appalling performance in the home FA Cup Third Round defeat to Leeds United. Obertan was not alone in performing badly but displayed all the traits that are worst in the youngster – his end product is poor, even when the winger beats a man he frequently loses the ball.
United fans can only hope that Obertan’s performance in Germany translates promise into a future reality.
Rather more ominously his former coach and former United player Laurent Blanc warned that United may fail with Obertan where others have already dared to tread.
“Manchester United have been tracking him for a long time,” said Blanc last August.
“They certainly hope to advance him, something that Bordeaux and Lorient have failed to do.”
One thing is certain, despite the inconsistencies of Obertan’s performances the winger must get a chance in the coming weeks or he will stagnate.
United’s stock of wingers remains depleted. Save for a miraculous resurgence in Park or the now infamous Bébé makes a meteoric rise in the coming weeks, it seems that Anderson and Darron Gibson may be utilised on the flanks more.
It’s not a picture that Obertan can welcome.