Jan 14, 2012

Gabriel Obertan: discuss

The game was somehow still balanced at 0-0.  The opposition of the day, Arsenal, had dominated possession and had Newcastle pinned up against their goal for the entirety of the first half.  

With both front men seriously short of match fitness Newcastle lacked any attacking presence or ability to break away – it was surely only a matter of time before the home side cracked under the visitors’ increasing pressure.  At 46 minutes Gabriel Obertan was summoned from the bench and replaced Ba to play behind the remaining striker, Shola Ameobi. All of a sudden NUFC had an outlet, a lighting quick release to the pressure – a whole new dimension.

His purchase only four days earlier had sparked much debate – his reputed potential as a former student of the world famous Clairefontaine academy in France was without question, but a largely unconvincing and uninvolved spell in his previous employment at Manchester United echoed the hallmarks of the archetypical prodigal footballer who simply failed to ‘make it’.

His introduction into the Arsenal game went some way to buoy the mood of those unconvinced and underwhelmed – after a season of predominantly slow moving, set piece based football NUFC now appeared to have blistering pace on the ground to form the kind of white-knuckle counter attacks that had not been seen since the Sir Bobby Robson days.

It’s fair to say it hasn’t been all so positive since.

The exit of Joey Barton along with Ryan Taylor carving out a covering role at left back meant that Obertan was now not only NUFC’s first choice at right midfield, the role was almost exclusively his.  This was the perfect scenario for Gabriel – in two seasons at Manchester United he had been afforded a grand total of 446 minutes first team playing time (less than five games worth), but now he was a fixture in the team without the pressure of rejection upon a patchy performance.

Thrust into the mix without the reassurance of consistency to call upon, his form since has been understandably patchy, although he has managed to show flashes of the kind of attacking prowess that attracted NUFC to him in the first place in an assist wielding performance at Stoke followed by an identical contribution in the boxing day win over Bolton.

However, with Jonas Guiterrez preoccupied covering the vulnerable left back position Newcastle have looked increasingly to Obertan’s right flank to create the much needed width for their predominant 442 formation.  When out of form it showed patently and the frustrations of some came quickly to the surface – a notable low being sarcastically applauded off the field after a fruitless performance against Wigan.  It was his ninth game.

His early season air of optimism has disappeared without trace.

Gabriel, going forward…

“Obertan broke through to the Bordeaux side in ‘06.  He was only used as a sub – but there were signs of definite talent. His ability on the ball and dangerous slalom runs were very eye catching.  

The second season failed to see him progress as everyone had hoped and a loan move to Lorient didn’t seem to benefit either party. The ability he first showed gave reason to be excited, it just never developed”.  Andrew Gibney – French Football weekly.

First and foremost Gabriel needs to continue playing if we are stand a chance of him reaching his potential.  Despite this now being his sixth year in professional football, he has managed just 39 starts in all competitions, at all clubs – 16 of those have been at NUFC.  Furthermore, this is the first time those starts have been in consecutive sequence of any reasonable length of time.  Lack of reasonable competitive playing time will seriously hinder any player’s development.

“Our fans need to be patient with him as I and the staff need to be at times because we know what he can do”. Alan Pardew – December ’11.

And surely there is talent there to develop.  Although his flashes of attacking threat have been short lived, he has crucially shown it enough to know he is capable of it – to state his plus points to be merely a fluke would be very disingenuous.  Continuous playing time will undoubtedly provide the best opportunity for this to surface, as will savvy coaching.  But Gabriel himself is not devoid of responsibility and must show an equal desire to develop and succeed.

But are NUFC missing a trick?

“Because he is so quick the crowd think he can just beat the full-back by racing him on the outside all the time but he can’t do that, he’d be too one-dimensional”. Alan Pardew – December ’11.

Whilst appreciating the sentiment of wanting to produce a more rounded player, is it perhaps not in both NUFC’s and Obertan’s best interests that he develops (and also improves his confidence) by concentrating on his ability to create from his wide position by using his near untouchable pace as a huge advantage?  After all, a standard 442 layout will predominantly look for the right sided midfielder to primarily provide an attacking outlet and to create goal scoring chances.

Indeed, are we missing the point entirely and not playing Obertan in the most effective position for his obvious pace and dribbling ability?  Gabriel has, on a number of occasions shown the ‘slalom dribble’, coming in from the right but usually being pressed out when shown onto his left foot.  Instead, imagine him playing on the left side of a 433, even 442, using his pace and cutting inside onto his favoured right with the space opened up from his burst of acceleration… This of course does not mean his instant transformation into Cristiano Ronaldo, but perhaps worth a try at in a low risk fixture.

For now…

“Of course I have a point to prove, If I had stayed with Manchester United, I think I would have made it, but I don’t know how long it would have taken.

I didn’t want to spend another two years learning and fighting for just a few minutes on the pitch here and there…but I needed to play and here at Newcastle it’s a great opportunity”. Gabriel Obertan – August ’11.

In the short term, seeing a literal manifestation on the field of the positive attitude he showed in his press conference upon singing (above) would do Gabriel the world of good.  Although not one for lack of work-rate, his lack of aggression when attacking – even when the situation is tailor made for him – certainly limits his output and lets the opposition full-back grow in confidence when he could easily be a ball of nerves.

Also, for the first time this season his place appears under a very real threat, with both Ryan Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa excelling in their very short appearances at right midfield – whether Gabriel can up his game quickly to force the competition away, or whether Alan Pardew with continue to consider Obertan as his first choice regardless remains to be seen.

The undoubted physical attributes are there – the technical attributes and mental attributes can be learned.  But only through patience, practice and positivity…


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11 Comments

  • Nice, balanced piece. I was half expecting an “Obertan is fantastic, lay off him” article to combat the idiot boo boys that get on his back at St James’ Park. Whilst in no way do I agree with the actions of his most vocal critics, I do feel that he has been poor a lot of the time and his consistently inconsistent form merits the sort of discussion that you have engaged in. For too many he is either crap or, on the flip side, I feel plenty have been queuing up to blindly defend his performances, regardless of how poor. It’s nice to see someone discuss the middle ground for once.

  • Many thanks. I understand your sentiment about some blindly defending him, and whist I’ll always try to defend him in a long term view he at times does not do himself any favours. I was always under the impression he had not played much at any of his previous clubs but even I was surprised to see how few starts he’s had and in his career and how fragmented his career has been – with that in mind it’s understandable at how raw he can look. But, adversely, he has to show that he is willing to take the opportunity that’s been afforded to him and not play the victim. I really do hope he makes it – but only time will tell.

  • I will give my opinion this time next year. He isn’t untouchable by any means but no-one deserves jeers and booing.

  • I think to understand Obertan you need to see what happens when he gets the ball. Usually he outruns the NUFC attack. He gets to the corner, ready to deliver a cross and there is no one there to ping the ball at. From that, I think he needs to develop ways to check his speed until the burst is needed. Jonas has that skill, but like all wingers, the end of the run usually looks disappointing. Obertan and Jonas both make the same moves to the middle that so confound the crowd. They seem to do this when the defense is already laying for them in the corner.

    If Obertan is indeed playing through the pain of a toe injury, then I’ll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day I see him healthy and acting like wingers everywhere.

  • He reminds me a bit of how Aaron Lennon used to be. One of the quickest around, but with no end ball. But instead of dropping him, Spurs persisted, and look at him now- he’s a guaranteed starter, and has naturally improved. This should serve as encouragement to the Obertan situation. I think, given that- in true Newcastle style- he was handed a 5-year contract, he needs to be given a chance. At least a full season. you never know, he might turn good with the consistency of playing time that he’s never really had.

  • Good young talented player, trying to settle in and still learning his trade. Yes he made mistakes, is dispossessed too often,but hard work in training will fix it.

  • i just dont understand it ? he has ability, we all can see that. he doesnt seem to me to have the confidence to go past a player although he has the tools to do it. football as we all know is a mental issue as well as a physical, how many players have we seen over the years who arent totally gifted but have drive which makes them a player ? if firmly believe if he could unlock the mind key he would be fantastic.

  • Nice article. Can’t say I’m Obertan’s biggest fan but would never boo the guy. I wonder if he would be better suited to playing off the front man in Ben Arfa’s number 10 role. I think that was the position he played against Arsenal if I remember right and he played well. I think Ben Arfa should play the RW role he is definitely a winger I have said that for ages. Hopefully Obertan does come good but he frustrates me when he misplaces passes and wastes crossing opportunities. However the thing that frustrates me the most is the amount of times he backs out of 50/50 challenges. Hopefully these areas can be worked on and his potential is reached.

  • Very balanced article, he is a very frustrating player to watch and appears to struggle with decision making and looks short on confidence when he gets the ball hence getting dispossessed quite frequently.
    I’d like to see him play as a striker alongside say best whilst demba away to take advantage of his pace it worked for a certain Mr Henry when he was switched from the wing (not that he’s in his class) but a few goals could work wonders for him.

  • even though this is an article trying to point out 2 sides, really though if he played like he plays like that for any team in the league and not us you would all say what a shit player he is, and im not talking about man u or any top 4 team , pick any team in the prem,

    he is young , but at 22, come on he is not a kid just breaking through, at 22 he should be able to do a few basic things in football,
    first thing im my opinion any footballer should do is try his hardest out on the field, there are lots of footballers out there our own jonas fits the bill here, not alot of end product but chases everything and leaves all his energy out on the pitch, obertan dont even do that, instead obertan seems to go hiding during games

    passing, he carnt pass very good,
    first touch , is very poor
    crossing, omg, he does 1 of 3 things here, cuts inside, and holds onto the ball way to long, or he tries to cross, but hits row z, or more often he pulls it back for simpson, to cross , between simpson obertan jonas and raylor, obertan has the least amaount of crosses, and whats worse is he has the least amout of cross completions :(
    in the last say 5 to 10 games, iv noticed that he is now starting to play anywhere but on the right wing, so we have no outlet there, only when simpson makes up ground,,

    again yes he is 22, but this man , not boy, has been at man u , and bordeaux, before us, 2 good clubs, and even if he didnt make the first team much in those teams, he still was around some of the best players and trainers in the world to learn from, im more than sure at 3 years at man u , id be twice the player i am right now,

    sorry but a player hits his peak at around 26 or 27, to me his peak will be how fast he can do the 100 mtrs, after all, what everyone has tried to do is turn a sprinter into a footballer, but he dont have a football brain, you carnt really teach that in my opinion, you have it or you dont,

  • Gabriel Obertan : The guy is nothing but a nuisance. Hardly ever gets a telling cross in, stubbornly refuses to use his pace to go past fullbacks. Provides nothing but comic relief with his exaggerated stepovers all in all jsut a pest

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