Early last year when Darron Gibson spoke of his desire to remain at Man United to fight for a first team place, you could almost hear the collective groans from the Old Trafford faithful and the Irish football-supporting public. In seven years, Gibson made just 31 appearances for United.
In the end he was practically pushed out the door by Ferguson. The return of Paul Scholes in January from retirement was the final nail in the coffin for a player who never really settled in Manchester. His finest moment in a United shirt undoubtedly came in 2009 in a crucial Champions League quarterfinal clash with Bayern Munich. Gibson was outstanding in the that game. He scored a cracking goal after just three minutes and held his own in midfield against the likes of Van Bommel and Schweinsteiger. Rather than kick on from that performance, he continued to dwindle away at United.
Gibson's ambition is something that has been questioned for many years. During his seven years at United the club won nine titles, but he was only awarded four of them (a Premiership, the League Cup twice and the World Club Championship). Last year at a time when he was still struggling to make any sort of impact on the United first team, Gibson is quoted as saying; "Obviously I want to kick on and get in the team, but I am happy enough. I am happy enough with my form, I have got no complaints." For a player that was barely even making the bench, it is amazing to think that he could be 'happy' with the direction his career was heading.
Fast forward eighteen months and the situation could not be any different for Gibson. Having finally given up hope of his career at Man United, Gibson made the short journey over to Merseyside where he linked up with fellow Irish international Seamus Coleman at Everton. David Moyes signed the midfielder for just £500,000 which in today's heavily-inflated transfer market was both an absolute steal and a sign of how far his value had fallen.
In the twelve months since he signed for Everton, Gibson has already played over half as many games as he did for United during seven years at Old Trafford. Although Gibson has had his injury problems this season, he has come back in recent weeks and has looked like the player he promised to be when he made the move from Belfast side Institute all those years ago. He played 11 times for The Toffees last season and not once finished one the losing side. (A further staggering fact is that in 48 careeer Premier League games, Gibson has been on the losing side just 4 times.)
The most obvious reason for Gibson's change in form is that's he finally playing regular first team football. But the influence that David Moyes has had over him cannot be understated. As Gibson continues to impress on the pitch, Moyes has spoken recently of how he needs to push him in order to get the best out of him: "I think he has the ability but there is a bit more to his game that he can offer. He needs a jab of the whip every now and again to get him going." Gibson is clearly someone who lacked motivation during his time with United and as he wasn't one of the stellar names at Old Trafford, it seemed like Ferguson wasn't willing to give him any special treatment. Perhaps out of need, Moyes seems to see something in Gibson that perhaps Ferguson didn't. Gibson brings a calmness to the Everton midfield that they have lacked since the departure of Goodison favourite Mikel Arteta.
Since his return from injury two weeks ago, Everton have played three games with Gibson back in the side - home games against Arsenal and Tottenham and an away trip to champions Manchester City. Everton have not lost any of these fixtures and climbed into fourth position of the league. Stand-in captain Phil Jagielka spoke yesterday of the boost his side received when Gibson returned from nearly three months out with injury: "Gibbo is massively important for us and you need to have someone who can keep the opposing defence on their toes. We know that if he does get a bit of time he can be like our quarterback and start putting in some fantastic passes." The 'quarterback' tag that Jagielka has given to Gibson is not the first time he has been referred to as this. When United signed him, they had hoped he would be a long term replacement for Paul Scholes, who personifies the deep-lying, pace-dictating central midfield role. Although this never materialised, in blue, Gibson is now showing many of similar attributes to the man whose return who forced him out the Old Trafford door.
Fourth position in the Premiership this season is as wide open as it has ever been. If Everton were to qualify for the Champions League, it would be a massive boost for Ireland as well as the club itself. With Aiden McGeady currently the only Irish player playing in the Europe's top competition, it would be a huge boost to the Ireland team to have both Gibson and Coleman added to that elite group.
However, Gibson must first declare himself available for Ireland once again. He was one of a few players selected for Euro 2012 that failed to make an appearance. Since the tournament in Poland, Gibson has made himself unavailable as he struggles to get over the disappointment. The enigmatic Giovanni Trapattoni hasn't seemed too concerned whether he returns or not. Back in September he stated; "In the past we were frightened about missing players, but now we already have a squad...He has to decide whether he wants to play or not." There is a great sense of déjà vu surrounding Gibson's current predicament as, like Ferguson, Trap isn't about to make any allowances for him.
It is time for Gibson to put his disappointment behind him. The prospect of a Gibson/McCarthy central pairing is something for Irish fans to be genuinely excited about. The ball is firmly in Gibson's court. Earlier in the week he admitted that he was still unclear as to what he was going to do; "I honestly don't know what's going to happen. I don't want to say yes and I don't want to say no. I haven't made my mind up, I'm quite stubborn. It's probably my downfall. I'm just not ready to make a decision about it." With two stubborn men at the centre of this debacle, it is going to take one of them to build the bridge - that person has to be Gibson.
Gibson's brief time at Everton has shown that he is a quality player. He evidently outstayed his welcome at Old Trafford and suffered for that. By his own admission, he is stubborn and this cost him years of first-team football elsewhere in England. It is vital that this stubbornness doesn't cost him his international future as well.