FERGIE’S FRENCH STARLET
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