Watching Gabriel Obertan's excellent mazy runs down the flanks for Bordeaux and Lorient can be somewhat reminiscent of watching young Cristiano Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.
Obertan is fast, the ball sticks to his feet exceptionally well, and he always seems to produce a ball to his strikers, often appearing as though he created an opening out of nowhere.
Ever since Manchester United purchased him, I can't shake the thought that he would have been much more highly rated had his centre forwards been more clinical in front of goal.
The media have played down his playing prospects for this year ever since Laurent Blanc uttered his surprise at Manchester United's purchase of the undeveloped prospect, but Sir Alex Ferguson gave his strongest hints this week that Obertan could be a surprise contributor to this season's title defense.
Obertan was not only included in United's Champions League squad, along with the more publicized (and just as encouraging) inclusion of Owen Hargreaves, Sir Alex hinted today that he may start seeing some playing time in the senior squad when he is fit...four to six weeks from now.
It seems that many of Manchester United's midfield players are being questioned in the media these days. In fact, all but the brave Darren Fletcher have faced some sort of doubt: Is Valencia ready for the limelight and can he plug enough of Ronaldo's void? Can Nani have more of an impact while also becoming more of a team player? Is Anderson's attitude where it needs to be? Is something wrong with Michael Carrick? Can Park become more clinical? Can Hargreaves come back strong and remain injury-free? Do Tosic and Gibson need more a little more time? Will this be Scholsey and Giggsy's last run?
With Obertan, the question is whether he may still be too raw. But, in many ways, that was also the question with Cristiano Ronaldo when he first put on a United shirt.
And for his three years at United, the young Ronaldo contributed an average of nine goals and over 45 appearances a season to a team that featured a couple of other greats from United's 1999 treble winning team at the twighlight of their Manchester United careers.
United's other title contenders all also seem somewhat flawed:
- Chelsea are an aged squad and are likely to lose a little steam as the season starts taking its toll;
- Arsenal and Manchester City and are likely just not-quite-ready to take that step;
- Tottenham are likely to get shaken up at some point (perhaps quite late into it) by their inexperience; and
- Liverpool have definitely gotten quite significantly weaker and somehow do not have a second Premiership-ready every-week player to player centre forward alongside Torres.
With Fergie pulling the strings, that United midfield is likely to have enough talent to make them at least on par with Chelsea over the course of the season. Every one of the players who'll wear a United shirt in the middle of the park have shown at least glimpses that suggest that they could be outstanding players.
In fact, at least four have demonstrated that they can have a major impact, and will likely continue to be able to make some valuable contributions for this coming season.
United have at least twelve players who are likely to play in the team's midfield over the 2009/10 season, and if they all play their role to their best ability, it could be an unprecedented fourth consecutive premiership title for the team. If that happens, I expect that Obertan will have opened up his account with the United first team quite promisingly.
Although I never expected to take on a writing career, I wanted my first post at the Bleacher Report to be something relatively bold. That's why a couple of months ago I settled on writing about the relatively "safe" prediction that Tiger Woods would come out ahead of the field at this year's British Open.
You see, Tiger is one of my favorite athletes and as reliable as they come, so picking him for the British Open was also an homage to his greatness and his "clutchness." I had also just attended my first golf tournament ever and an intense Tiger had calmly and coolly dispatched of the field at his own event at Congressional. It seemed like the perfect first story but I never found the time to write it.
Since then, Tiger made me very pleased that I never ended with that as my first 'bold prediction': with only the second cut of his career at a major at the British and subsequently having his first "un-clutch" Sunday moment at a major at the PGA Championship.
Ultimately, I feel Tiger is going to get back to at least match his previous best (and potentially eclipsing in)—which is why I still feel the predictions for his elevated will shortly come to pass.
I'm pleased though, that instead, my first prediction had to do with something I've been passionate about the most for the majority of my life: My favorite team, Manchester United.