By Peter Staunton
"He'll be ready in a few minutes," Sarah from the PR agency says. "He's just finishing off a game of Fifa." I'd been kept waiting before with all manner of excuses given but at least this one from Darron Gibson was honest. He was, in fairness, promoting EA's Fifa 14 and had managed to get his hands on a copy to play a challenge match in one of the hotel's conference rooms. "I lost my first game which isn't too good," he told me when we sat down. Truth is, we were due to start a few minutes beforehand but Darron, having lost his opener, failed to conquer his adversary the second time of asking. That wasn't too good either.
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"There’s a massive difference in the way we play from last season," says Gibson. "It’s a completely different style of football." Gibson has been forced to endure a new perspective on his team's strategies, having watched their Premier League campaign to this point from the sidelines.
Martinez made use of Gibson in pre-season but a knee injury in the last warm-up against Real Betis has put a delay on his competitive season so far. He's recovering well though. "Hopefully I'll be involved in some way at the weekend," he says as Everton attempt to capitalise on their fine win over Chelsea last time out. They are away to West Ham on Saturday.
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It's no wonder Gibson's happy. Everton have indeed been passing it a lot more so far this season and better too. They have moved from ninth last season to first in this campaign in the average possession table, commanding 64 per cent of the ball across their four matches thus far. One drawback has been their goal output with only three netted in four. The players are still adjusting to the process after the directness of the Moyes era. "We’re a lot more patient, building up to attacks," Gibson says. "It is different, the lads are enjoying it. Slowly but surely getting used to the system."
Martinez himself is enthused at having the Ireland international back at his disposal. "Darron is quite unique in his role," he said this week. "With his forward passing and ability on the ball, he is someone that is very much needed in any team."
Competition for places in that Everton midfield has become a lot tougher since the start of the season despite the high-profile departure of Marouane Fellaini to United. Martinez completed the deadline day signings of Gareth Barry on a season-long loan and Gibson's international colleague James McCarthy from Wigan for £13 million. Also acquired for the season are the services of Belgium's Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea. "All the players settled in well," he says. "They’re adapting to the style of football he wants to play. Everyone is really enjoying it."
Gibson, having struggled for game-time at Old Trafford, is not about to let his place in the engine room slip away. "It’s always nice for the squad and the fans to see a bit of competition," he says. "It keeps everyone on their toes and makes people fight for their place. "Everyone has got to impress him. Everyone is ready to prove that he’s good enough to play."
Darron Gibson appears in EA SPORTS FIFA 14 Ultimate Team. FIFA 14 is available to buy on September 27th. Pre-order the FIFA 14 Limited Edition on Xbox 360 and PS3 from amazon.co.uk to receive 24 FIFA Ultimate Team Gold Packs and EA SPORTS Football Club Unlockables.