Darron Gibson’s arrival at Goodison Park didn’t generate much excitement amongst Everton fans. The central midfielder swapped Manchester United for Everton in the winter of 2012, but the move was met somewhat negatively by Evertonians, who thought Gibson was merely an average, cheap replacement for Mikel Arteta, who was adored by the blue half of Merseyside.
But the Irishman proved his doubters wrong by putting in a number of cultured, assured displays at the heart of Everton’s midfield in the second half of the 2011/12 season. Gibson dictated the tempo of matches, got stuck in to challenges and even scored the winning goal in the Toffeemen’s 1-0 over Manchester City. He had gone from being a United cast-off to a vital component of Everton’s make-up in the space of 4 months.
Gibson’s first full season at Everton was disrupted by injuries, which in a way led to Evertonians holding him in an even higher regard. With Marouane Fellaini vital to Everton’s attacking play in David Moyes’ final season at Goodison, there were only 2 other recognised central midfielders in the Everton squad, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman. With only 3 games gone in the 2012/13 campaign, Gibson picked up a severe thigh injury that would cause him to miss 2 months of the season, and with his replacement in the Toffees engine room being the aging and limited Phil Neville, the Londonderry midfielder’s presence was hugely missed.
The thigh injury flared up again in the winter period of the 2012/13 season, causing Gibson to miss another month of the campaign, but the Irishman did end the season with 26 appearances in all competitions and highlighted his importance to the blue half of Merseyside in those matches.
Although Gibson doesn’t bring an abundance of goals and assists to the table, his impact at Everton in his first two seasons cannot be understated. The Blues won 52% of the games he played in and only 25% of those he did not, highlighting his almost quarter-back like role at Goodison Park, and Evertonians were more confident going into games with Gibson in the team.
Fast forward to the present day. Gibson is currently recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered on international duty, he has featured in only two games for Everton under Roberto Martinez and his rivals for the central midfield berths, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy, have had stellar campaigns, providing steel, energy and a great platform for Ross Barkley to flourish. The aforementioned duo have developed an intrinsic partnership in the heart of the Everton side and are definitely in with a chance of being Everton’s player of the season. This begs the question, how will Martinez use Gibson? Will he break up the Barry/McCarthy combo, change his system to accommodate the trio, or leave his engine room as it is and use Gibson as a back-up?
Gareth Barry has enjoyed a superb season in an Everton shirt, with many expecting the Englishman to sign for the Merseyside outfit permanently when his contract at Manchester City expires in the summer. The City loanee is a similar player to Darron Gibson. They both have an impressive range of passing which helps them dictate the tempo of matches, the pair’s positional play is of a very high standard and there are evident leadership qualities in both players.
Barry has a bit of an edge on Gibson as he is slightly superior when it comes to aerial duels and tackling, but the substantial age difference could give the 26-year-old Gibson a possible advantage over the former Villa man, who turned 33 a few weeks ago. But age doesn’t look like it will be a negative factor to Barry’s game. He has never been blessed with pace so there is no worry of his legs starting to go, his positional play can only improve with the more matches he plays and you never lose your ability to pass, just look at Andrea Pirlo or even Ryan Giggs, whose passing played a key role in Manchester United’s vital 3-0 win over Olympiakos in the Champions League.
When James McCarthy joined Everton for £13million from Wigan Athletic on deadline day, many fans were not convinced that the 23-year-old could live up to his hefty price tag. After taking a little bit of time to settle in to new surroundings, McCarthy has made the £13million spent on him look like an absolute steal. His tenacity, tackling, passing and commitment have him earmarked as a future Everton captain, and with time on his side he will only get better with age.
McCarthy is a different type of midfielder to Gibson. The former Hamilton Academical star is a lot more combative than his compatriot, and covers an unbelievable amount of ground every time he plays. Gibson seems to act as more of an anchorman in the middle of the park, relying on the ball to do some of his legwork by attempting many long range passes, but while doing so he speeds up the Everton attack by getting the ball up the pitch accurately and rapidly. McCarthy rarely gives the ball away but he doesn’t adventurous passes like Gibson. Both Irishmen could do with adding more goals to their game, Gibson’s only two strikes in Everton colours have been deflected, while McCarthy is yet to open his account for his new club.
It will be interesting to see how Roberto Martinez utilises Darron Gibson next season. With Everton looking likely to qualify for some form of European competition, there will be a major increase in the amount of games that The Toffeemen have to play. The former Swansea boss regularly makes changes to his starting line-up to keep his squad fresh and on it’s toes, so it would be likely that Gibson would get a substantial amount of minutes on the pitch as Martinez would attempt to have Everton compete domestically and in Europe.
Would Martinez break up the Barry-McCarthy-Barkley midfield trio? A trio that has worked so impressively at times that Evertonians have likened them to ‘The Holy Trinity’, Everton’s highly revered, legendary midfield from the 1960’s which contained Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey. James McCarthy and Ross Barkley are two youthful, exciting midfielders that are brimming with potential, and while Gareth Barry isn’t getting any younger, he is an almost perfect foil for McCarthy and Barkley to express themselves, and Roberto Martinez has heaped praise on the Englishman throughout the season, describing him as a ‘godfather’ to the Everton squad.
This hints at the Catalonians intent to keep the Barry-McCarthy-Barkley combination as his first choice midfield for the next few seasons, meaning Gibson would be utilised as rotation option along with Toffees stalwart Leon Osman.
Gibson is also unreliable because of his injury record. Since making his debut in 2005, the former Wolves loanee has made 180 club career appearances, which averages out at 20 appearances a season. You surely cannot build a team that has ambitions of silverware and Europe around a player who can’t stay fit for a sustained period of time, regardless of the amount of ability he may possess.
Darron Gibson is a talented, injury-prone player who still can have a big role to play for Everton in the future, but he isn’t as vital to the team under Roberto Martinez as he was when David Moyes was in charge.
Published in permission with PlayinRoyalBlue