FERGIE’S FRENCH STAR­LET

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

WHEN Gabriel Ober­tan earned a de­gree in lit­er­a­ture in his na­tive France, he was given an as­sez bien grad­ing. A loose trans­la­tion into English would be “fair” or “quite good”.

Af­ter a month or so of foot­ball in Eng­land with Manch­ester United, the grad­ing re­mains ap­pro­pri­ate.

As United man­ager Sir Alex Fer­gu­son dis­sected a dis­ap­point­ing – if largely ir­rel­e­vant – de­feat for his sec­ond­string team against Be­sik­tas at Old Traf­ford on Wed­nes­day, he will have taken some en­cour­age­ment from the con­tri­bu­tion of Ober­tan.

Many in France thought the 20-year-old winger’s star was al­ready on the wane when Fer­gu­son paid £3 mil­lion to bring him to Eng­land from Bor­deaux in the sum­mer, such had been his mod­est form in his home coun­try for the pre­vi­ous three months.

But early in­di­ca­tions are that Fer­gu­son may have got this one right.

The United man­ager has been a lit­tle hit and miss when it comes to find­ing young wide play­ers.

The cap­ture of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo from Por­tu­gal in 2003 was a stun­ning piece of busi­ness, of course, while An­to­nio Va­len­cia has shown some prom­ise since arriving from Wi­gan as Ron­aldo’s re­place­ment in the sum­mer.

But French­man David Bel­lion – signed six years ago – was a fail­ure, as has been the in­fu­ri­at­ing Nani. Serb Zo­ran Tosic, 22, has strug­gled to set­tle in Eng­land to such an ex­tent that his fu­ture at United is al­ready thought to be in some doubt af­ter less than a year.

Ober­tan has moved in the right di­rec­tion since his re­cov­ery from in­jury al­lowed him a de­but against Barns­ley in the Car­ling Cup a month ago. Yet to score and at times ap­pear­ing over-anx­ious, he has nev­er­the­less looked a dex­trous, nim­ble foot­baller with the valu­able abil­ity to put de­fend­ers on the back foot.

“I do want to do more and I have not scored yet or made an as­sist,” Ober­tan said in the wake of Wed­nes­day’s 1-0 Cham­pi­ons League de­feat.

“I don’t think I am fully match fit yet. I worked hard for four months so I think I will be 100 per cent soon and that will help me.

“I think I have put in some good per­for mances but they’ve only been short ap­pear­ances when I came on as a sub­sti­tute,” he added. “I want to do more than that. I think I could do more. That’s what I am wish­ing for.”

In the wake of his first game at Old Traf­ford ear­lier this month, Ober­tan was asked, rather pre­ma­turely, if he could be­come as good as the much-missed Ron­aldo.

There was lit­tle sim­i­lar­ity be­tween their home de­buts: Ron­aldo am­bled on and ter­rorised Bolton in the Premier League in Au­gust 2003 while Ober­tan’s first con­tri­bu­tion – as a sub­sti­tute against Black­burn last month – was to drib­ble the ball straight off the field.

Nev­er­the­less, both play­ers are sim­i­larly di­rect and, ac­cord­ing to those who watched him grow up in France, Ober­tan does pos­sess other traits that may be fa­mil­iar.

Re­spected French foot­ball writer Eric Bil­der­man said this week: “Ober­tan has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing quick and pow­er­ful, with a good burst of speed. He is very di­rect.

“But he can play too much with his head down and some­times fail to find the right pass. I watched the United game against Ever­ton on TV at the week­end and saw him do some things that I im­me­di­ately recog­nised.”

A prod­uct of the famed French academy at Claire­fontaine, Ober­tan be­gan his pro­fes­sional ca­reer with Bor­deaux where – af­ter a spell work­ing un­der Brazil­ian coach Ri­cardo – he was to de- velop un­der for­mer United de­fender Lau­rent Blanc.

His progress was to stall, how­ever, and Ober­tan ac­tu­ally spent the sec­ond half of last sea­son on loan at lit­tle­known Lori­ent, where by all ac­counts he was no more suc­cess­ful.

He scored just one goal in 15 games, and Blanc said: “United will hope to ad­vance him, some­thing that Bor­deaux and Lori­ent have failed to do. He has the po­ten­tial, but he must over­come psy­cho­log­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges so he can ex­press his true value.”

Talk­ing about Ober­tan’s move, Lori­ent man­ager Chris­tian Gour­cuff struck a simi- lar note. “He cer­tainly has some tal­ent, but also some gaps in his game. I hope he will suc­ceed, but he will have to make the step up men­tally.”

At United, Fer­gu­son’s staff have no­ticed no men­tal frailty, even if his de­ci­sion mak­ing in pos­ses­sion needs work. A weights pro­gramme is be­ing used to de­velop the winger’s up­per body and he will be used spar­ingly in the first team dur­ing com­ing weeks.

Cer­tainly, though, there is prom­ise. Fer­gu­son de­scribed his per­for­mance and that of other youngsters against Be­sik­tas as “stel­lar”. As­sez bien would have been more ac­cu­rate. – Daily Mail

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