The Champions League Semi-final. A Wembley date with Barcelona awaits if you can see off the team that has just destroyed a Treble-winning Inter Milan. You turn to… Darron Gibson. What next?
Van der Sar, Rafael Da Silva, Smalling, Evans, O'Shea, Gibson, Scholes, Anderson, Valencia, Berbatov, Nani.
It would not take a rocket scientist to realize the above line-up was for Manchester United, sometime between 2010 to 2012. What might be surprising is to realize that Chris Smalling played in front of Edwin Van Der Sar, arguably one of the three best goalkeepers in Manchester United’s history.
You would then look back fondly at the passing range of Paul Scholes, and then think to yourself, “hang on, is Antonio Valencia playing as a winger, and not right-back?” Different times.
Then you might be aghast to find out that this is the starting eleven for a Champions League Semi-final against a side that had thumped Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate.
An Inter Milan side that featured Julio Cesar, Javier Zanetti, Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder, Esteban Cambiasso, and even a youthful Philipe Coutinho. An Inter side that was the defending champions, who had won the treble under Jose Mourinho the previous season.
And they had been beaten, soundly, by a Schalke team that now travelled to Old Trafford, to face Darron Gibson and co.
Manuel Neuer was in goal for Schalke, who also featured Benedikt Howedes, Julian Draxler, and the legendary Raul in their starting line-up, with Joel Matip on the bench. United had been able to record a 2-0 away win at the Veltins Arena, and even with that advantage, few thought this would be a routine fixture, the winners earning the right to face Barcelona at Wembley in the Final.
Most United fans might confess that Darron Gibson is not the first name that comes to mind when it comes to their team’s heroes. In truth, most of Gibson's high points for United came in cup competitions, but he would always have been seen as a backup to more established players at best, by the vast majority of fans.
Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Owen Hargreaves, Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, and Ryan Giggs all appeared to be in front of the Northern Irishman in the pecking order, and few could or would argue the fact.
Still, here he was, starting in a key position in a key game, against formidable opponents.
One goal, one assist, as United ran out comfortable 4-1 winners.
This would not, unfortunately, be the start of a glorious turnaround for Gibson at Old Trafford. Dropped for the showpiece Final, a proposed summer move to Sunderland fell through at the last hurdle, he barely featured for United at all the following season. It took until January for him to find a new club, joining up with David Moyes at Everton.
Most Evertonians might look at his spell with the toffees as a success, though a serious knee injury in October 2013 curtailed any momentum he was gaining, and Gibson was unable to play in more than 10 league games in either of the following seasons. He moved to Sunderland, lasting less than a year, the same happening at Wigan the following season, before finally finding his way to Salford City.
Playing for the “Class of 92” now, it can be confusing how someone who part of such stellar sides has fallen so far down, but football can be an unforgiving creature, Darron Gibson treading the path from the Champions League to National League.