Gabriel Obertan: Following in the footsteps of giants

Harry Burford

Some players are seemingly destined to succeed as soon as they first step foot among the English top-flight. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much of an uphill battle truly awaits them within the Premier League, for certain players out there seem rather adept at rising to the challenge and staking a real claim for themselves among arguably the most competitive league in the whole of world football.

But of course, such a heart-warming notion doesn’t always ring true in every particular instance. For every player who takes to the English top-flight with all the proficiency and class of a big name star with even bigger dreams to fulfil, there are always those who simply fall by the wayside and fail to hit the ground running in the most underwhelming fashion possible.

In the case of one Gabriel Obertan, a once highly rated French youngster with boundless potential to take the Premier League by storm and effectively replace the great Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, the often testing trials and tribulations of the English top-flight proved to be just that, mostly troublesome and somewhat difficult to manage.

Although the former Ligue 1 youngster certainly got a great deal of Red Devils fans talking when he first arrived at their club in the summer of 2009, Obertan ultimately fell short of fulfilling his so-called potential and subsequently failed to deliver when push invariably turned to shove. Sometimes, following in the footsteps of giants can prove far more trouble than it’s worth for those seemingly unready for the challenge…

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But let us first get one thing straight, for the role of successfully replacing Cristiano Ronaldo within a cauldron as intense and powerful as Old Trafford was always going to prove far easier said than done. Even if Gabriel Obertan had largely impressed whilst operating among the English top-flight, many Premier League onlookers would have likely seen fit to criticise the young winger due to the colossal expectations thrust upon him from the outset.

That said, the now 28-year-old Frenchman didn’t exactly help his own cause when handed the illustrious opportunity to thrive in front of the Red Devils faithful. Despite all the hype and undue sensation, Obertan could barely complete a successful dribble to save his life. His crossing ability was ineffective at best, whilst his failure to find the back of the net was also called into question on more than just the odd occasion.

As the quick-footed winger seemingly failed to impress via his problematic decision-making, dubious link-up play and consistent inability to source a successful final-ball, it comes as little surprise that such an underwhelming player ultimately failed to make the grade at Manchester United.

Things could have been so different for Obertan had he arrived at Old Trafford in less pressurizing circumstances. After all, the former Ligue 1 talent had carved out a decent reputation for himself whilst operating for both Bordeaux and Lorient before opting to join Sir Alex Ferguson’s prestigious Red Devils. He had thrived upon the international scene for France at youth level and looked set on developing even further when he first introduced himself in England.

Whilst Obertan was never considered something of an out-in-out goal-scorer throughout his early days among the French top-flight, his quick-feet in tight situations were nonetheless credited more than you would perhaps imagine. The former Manchester United man seemed like a rising young talent, a French prodigy who sought to go about his business without fear or limitation – especially when taking on opposing defenders inside the final third.

Sadly for Obertan and all those Red Devils supporters who believed the mounting hype surrounding the young Frenchman, achieving unyielding success at Manchester United ultimately proved to be a frustrating bridge too far. The winger simply wasn’t good enough, and neither was the decision to bring such a player to Old Trafford in the first place.

Despite mounting an impressive total of league appearances for Newcastle United after parting ways with the Red Devils in the summer of 2011, Gabriel Obertan subsequently wound up plying his trade for both Anzhi Makhachkala and Wigan Athletic with relatively little success. Today he can be found operating for Levski Sofia among the Bulgarian league, where those former comparisons with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo seem a million miles away for the out-of-luck Frenchman.

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With everything fairly taken into account, it’s reasonable to suggest that Obertan became an unlikely victim of circumstance and chance. Although he never once represented a truly exciting asset to begin with, perhaps the Frenchman would have fared far better at United without the constant comparisons to Ronaldo and Old Trafford’s further array of standout attacking gems from yesteryear and beyond.

Maybe the wide-man could have successfully built upon his growing reputation as an impressive young talent had he not been so overhyped and unjustifiably celebrated before he’d even kicked his first ball under Sir Alex Ferguson. In Gabriel Obertan’s stark failure to impress among the English top-flight, the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid was made all the more painful and disappointing for the Old Trafford faithful to endure.

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