PROFILE: Canaries new boy Gibson is playing game of catch-up
- Credit: Archant
Ben Gibson should be a man on a mission after joining Norwich City - CHRIS LAKEY looks at the defender’s recent career
Two Wembley finals in the space of eight days, a £15m move to the Premier League, an England call-up – and the ability to bring Burnley boss Sean Dyche close to radio silence ... new Canaries signing Ben Gibson appears to have a lot going for him.
It’s the relationship with Dyche which appears to be something of a mystery. Why did the man who paid all that cash for him just two years ago then give him just one top-flight appearance?
Earlier this year Burnley refused to sell Gibson to Watford and the defender ended up training at his old club, Middlesbrough – owned by his uncle, Steve Gibson. So, out of favour, he wasn’t training with his own team-mates.
And even when Dyche had injury problems during Project Restart, he seemed adamant that Gibson would not be recalled.
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“His situation hasn’t changed really,” said Dyche last month. “The only thing that has changed is the Covid situation which means it has been pushed back. We were always going to re-evaluate in the summer so we will re-evaluate at the end of the season.”
Re-evaluation appears to have been sorted, given Gibson is now a Norwich City loan player – Burnley doesn’t appear to have been a place where he could lay his hat and call home.
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So what have City got for their interest?
Well, the aforementioned England call-up was a mark of his pedigree, which began development at Boro when Gibson was 12 and earned him his first pro contract in 2010. Loans to Plymouth, York – where he won the 2012 FA Trophy final at Wembley and went back eight days later for the Conference Premier play-off final victory – and Tranmere.
It was the learning process that helped establish him at Middlesbrough, where he was on the losing side in the 2015 Championship play-off final against Norwich, but a year later helped them to promotion as runners-up, behind, coincidentally, champions Burnley.
Boro survived only one season – during which he received an England call-up to replace the injured Chris Smalling for a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania – and after failing to make an immediate return to the top flight, allowed Gibson to head to Turf Moor, where he signed a four-year contract for a joint club-record fee of £15m.
That one Premier League game isn’t entirely reflective of his Burnley career to date – although it’s not far off: his debut in August 2018 was a Europa League game against Basaksehir, in which he was booked, and a week later he played in the tie at Olympiacos, when he was sent off after a second yellow.
He had to wait until Boxing Day for his next appearance, when he scored the only goal in a 5-1 defeat at home to Everton. Two FA Cup starts followed – and that was it for 2018-19. His only game last season was an EFL Cup defeat at home to Sunderland in August last year.
When Watford couldn’t agree a deal with Burnley in January, Gibson ended up training with Middlesbrough, which some would say is a very sorry state of affairs.
A tight-lipped Dyche said at the time there was “a private angle to it, which will remain private.”
It perhaps didn’t help that he reportedly posted pictures of himself in full Middlesbrough kit on social media.
As former Burnley striker Jon Walters said: “He just hasn’t played. He trained unbelievably well every single day. He is so professional outside of the club and he is constantly doing things to keep himself on top. Obviously something has happened. From the outside it looks like he wants to go. Something has happened within the club. Whether it’s a falling out with the manager or staff, whatever has happened.”
Leicester wanted to sign Gibson before they opted for Harry Maguire. The new loan signing is a left-sided centre-back, who has experience of helping teams out of the Championship.
And at 27 and having been in a state of limbo, he has some catching up to do: you’d expect he’s champing at the bit.
He has a good footballing brain, he’s strong and quick, and while he has footballing ability, there some no-frills too – perhaps Dyche saw a bit of himself in Gibson when he signed him. If safety first is his mantra it would make a change from some of the horrendous defending that saw City tumble back in the Championship last season. Certainly, in his only season in the Premier League he stood out in a poor Boro side, and held his own against some top quality strikers.
Norwich will be hoping they give him the opportunity to do it again soon.