Sir Alex Ferguson once brought Gabriel Obertan to Manchester United, he was considered a huge talent. But an injury changed the direction of his path.
Summer 2009. Manchester United was a much more glorious Manchester United than it is today. The Red Devils had just become English champions for the third time in a row in one of the heydays of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and had been in the Champions League final. Only a year earlier, in 2008, they had even won the premier class.
Nonetheless, United had to act in the transfer market that summer. Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo, the biggest superstar, left Old Trafford to join Real Madrid for €94m.
One who it was hoped might play a part in replacing the Portuguese all-rounder was a then 20-year-old Frenchman. His name: Gabriel Obertan, brought to England by Ferguson from Girondins Bordeaux for four million euros.
Today probably not many can do anything with this name. Also because an injury shortly after Obertan’s arrival in Manchester ensured that his career took the wrong course.
Gabriel Obertan: The beginnings in France
Technically strong, quick, agile, can be used on both wings or on the ten: In France, the young Gabriel Obertan was once considered one of the country’s greatest talents.
At the age of 17, the midfielder made it into the first team of Girondins Bordeaux, at that time still a top team in Ligue 1. He plays very maturely for his young age, going through all the junior national teams of Les Bleus from the U16. Manchester United was already watching him at that time, but the interest has not yet become concrete.
And his rise didn’t go as quickly as hoped. He played regularly for Bordeaux in the months that followed, but the final breakthrough was a long time coming. In the second half of the 2008/09 season, Obertan was loaned out to FC Lorient – but he is by no means an undisputed regular there either.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson is not blinded by this. He’s still convinced of Obertan’s potential and likes his versatility. In the summer of 2009, Manchester transferred four million euros to Bordeaux. And Obertan is going to England.
Gabriel Obertan: flop at Manchester United
“Gabriel is a player we’ve been watching for a number of years,” said Ferguson when Obertan’s move to United was decided. So that he can develop as a footballer and as a person in peace, the signing has been postponed for the time being, emphasized the legendary coach. “He’s an exciting player with prospects.”
In fact, Obertan wanted to finish school first before embarking on an adventure as big as United’s. The time had finally come – although Ferguson confirmed that he did not see the 20-year-old Frenchman as the sole successor to Ronaldo, who had just migrated to Madrid, but rather as a talent that first has to find its way and could later bring trophies to the club .
For this Obertan should be carefully introduced to the new environment, to the new league. Ferguson wants to give him time but of course keep counting on him so he can improve. But early on, physical hurdles should put a spoke in the wheel of this plan.
In the first eight weeks of the 2009/10 season, Obertan was paralyzed by calf problems. When he reported himself fit again in mid-October 2009, it was very difficult to get a place in the now well-established team. Obertan is only used sporadically, he gets most of his playing time in the reserve team. The highlight of his first season was two assists for Michael Owen in the final Champions League group game against Wolfsburg – although Obertan only came on a quarter of an hour before the end.
Nothing changes in Obertan’s situation in the second season either. Only very occasionally is he allowed to play the full 90 minutes, mostly in the FA Cup or League Cup. After all, he was in United’s starting eleven in the Champions League group game at Bursaspor in early November 2010 and scored a goal in a 3-0 win – it was to be his only goal in two years for Manchester.
Goodbye, theater of dreams
In any case, Obertan only made 27 competitive appearances for United, spending the second half of the 2010/11 season almost entirely in the reserve team. Of course, he had hoped for more when he came to Old Trafford in the summer of 2009.
Therefore, in the summer of 2011, he decided to make a change. Newcastle came knocking, offering a good perspective for the highly talented technician. Obertan was determined to make it to the Magpies and spoke clearly of his hopes of a starting place.
He also had the big goal of becoming a France national team player in the back of his mind. Although he realized early on that he would definitely have to leave Manchester to do so, an assignment for the big Equipe Tricolore should always remain a dream.
Gabriel Obertan: Endless bad luck with injuries
The first few months in Newcastle were promising: Obertan became a regular player straight away and was partly responsible for the Magpies playing a good role in the Premier League.
Only in terms of countable was his yield poor, in his debut season at Newcastle he only managed one goal and three assists in 23 league games. And at some point he lost his place in the team more and more.
In the second year, his assignments became more sporadic – also because he was repeatedly thrown back by physical problems. In his third season in Newcastle, he was hardly on the pitch and was out for months due to a knee injury.
In 2014/15 he fought his way back into the team and made a couple of good appearances before a hamstring injury put him on hold for several months.
Obertan’s time in Newcastle ended in the summer of 2016 after he had been injured for a long time the previous season. The former top talent was temporarily without a club.
Gabriel Obertan: The descent
In August 2016, Obertan finally joined Anzhi Makhachkala. The Russian club had signed stars like Roberto Carlos, Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Lassana Diarra in previous years – but when Obertan came, Eto’o and Co. were long gone. And he himself only stayed for half a year and was gone again after nine assignments.
Even in the following six months at Wigan Athletic he failed to give his career a lasting new impetus. He moved on to Levski Sofia in Bulgaria, then to Erzurumspor in Turkey in early 2019. There he managed to get promoted to the Süper Lig in 2020, where he was a regular in the 2020/21 season.
The former United professional now plays for Charlotte Independence, the third division in the USA. He moved there for the first time in the summer of 2021, initially staying for half a year. After six months without a club, he returned last summer, his contract runs until the end of 2023.
Now 34 years old, Obertan will definitely not return to the big football stage. But for Charlotte he is an important player, passing on his experience to the players there. And that can make you happy too.