Is Gabriel Obertan The New "Henry of Arsenal" Or The "Taarabt of Spurs?"

nigel smithCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2009

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Gabriel Obertan of Bordeaux in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Chelsea and Bordeaux at Stamford Bridge on September 16, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

For Gabriel Obertan, there could be no worse start to a United career.

The club has paid Bordeaux an initial £3 million to sign the France Under-21 winger to a four-year deal. The fee rises to £6 million if Obertan progresses as United would hope.

"Gabriel is a player we have tracked for a few years now, but because of his educational programme our efforts to get him here have always been delayed," Sir Alex told the club’s website.

"We are delighted to get him now as he is an exciting prospect. We like to get young players and develop them, and we will see that in Gabriel."

The player too was dancing on the ceiling after the contract was confirmed.

"I knew United had been following me for a few years, but I did not think it was going to happen this season,” he admitted.

"We had no longer been in too much contact until the England Under-21s game, when I played well for France and scored a goal.

"That helped things along. We spoke again and I ended up signing. Sir Alex has put me at ease.

"He said to me that he knows my pros and cons — it's my potential that interests him. He has confidence in me, which is flattering and surprising after my average season last year.

"I am very happy to join Manchester United. This is a big opportunity for me."

Obertan will be denied an immediate opportunity to gauge just how big a step-up he has made. Injury means he will be unable to join up with his new teammates on their over-seas tour.

If that wasn’t bad enough karma for the newcomer, the unflattering commentary from France that has accompanied his transfer may soon have the player seeking out the services of a sport psychologist.

Obertan’s coach at Lorient Christian Gourcuff offered an unconvincing endorsement of the player’s readiness for the Premiership when asked for his opinion on the shock transfer.

Gourcuff took Obertan on loan last season after he was farmed out by Bordeaux boss and ex-United defender Laurent Blanc, to gain more experience. Obertan floundered, scoring a solitary goal in 15 appearances. Gourcuff remains unimpressed.

"He certainly has some talent but also some gaps in his game,” the coach declared. “I hope he will succeed, but he will have to make the step up mentally."

Even Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc has his doubts about Obertan’s preparedness. He said: "I was surprised, but it is an unexpected chance for him to play with one of the best clubs in the world.

"Manchester United have been tracking him for a long time. They certainly 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."

The poor reviews of the new recruit and the references to his need to overcome “psychological and mental challenges” do not augur well for Obertan. Sir Alex will hope that the winger pushes on and has critics comparing him to the Arsenal legend Thierry Henry within a few seasons.

Those same critics, whilst noting Obertan’s speed and the rave reviews earned as a junior, might be more taken by the player’s unimpressive presence in front of goal. From there, it would be all too easy to suggest the winger is more likely to emerge as United’s new David Bellion.

Fans will have grim memories of United’s last French flyer. With eerie similarity, United chased the player over a protracted period in 2003. Once the deal was completed for the winger, then playing for Sunderland, the manager presented him as a face of United’s future.

“It has been a long process to complete this deal,” Sir Alex revealed. “We did not know whether David would go abroad or come to us, and we are delighted he has chosen Manchester United.

“He is a young player with great potential who will fit into the club’s future plans very well.”

We know better now. Bellion never came to grips with the demands of playing on the highest stage and was regarded as an utter failure before being flogged to Nice in 2006.

"Leaving England was a hard choice to make, but I think there is huge potential in Nice and I don't regret a thing,” he said.

No-one would wish such a southwards career trajectory on Obertan, but Bellion apart, he should also be mindful of the fate of the last highly-rated French junior to hit the Premiership.

Adel Taarabt, a supremely gifted youngster, hailed as the ‘new Zidane,’ has played just 15 games for Spurs since arriving at the club in 2007.

The player, strong, fast, with a powerful shot, who can play as a forward or winger, was considered one of France’s brightest stars when he ventured to north London but fell out of favour with former boss Juande Ramos.

Taarabt's highly individual style, erratic form, and Spurs’ flirtation with relegation hindered his progress, forcing the 20-year-old Moroccan international into the arms of Queens Park Rangers in search of more first team football.

“Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp told me they are not really in a position to give young players like me an opportunity right now and QPR were keen on me,” he explained last March.

"I consider myself to be an attacking midfielder. I can score, I can give assists, I can dribble and I can cross. "I hope here at QPR I will score and do well for the team. I can't wait to play.

"I have come here to learn, and I know that the physical side is something I will need to handle. It will be good for my experience and for my development."

Taarabt’s plight as a young shooting star whose rise to fame is matched only by an equally rapid descent towards oblivion should act as a cautionary tale.

Gabriel Obertan should take heed.