The future of Manchester United's Portuguese winger Nani appears increasingly uncertain with the club expected to complete the £3m signing of 20-year-old France Under-21 international Gabriel Obertan today.
Obertan, a tall, rangy winger who can operate down either flank and at centre-forward, has been the focus of interest from Premier League clubs for the past three years and is expected to arrive on a four-year contract at Old Trafford with a recommendation from his club manager at Bordeaux, the one-time United defender Laurent Blanc.
Obertan's trickiness on the left flank presents more competition for 22-year-old Nani, who did not develop as United might have hoped last season. Zoran Tosic, another left winger signed by United from Partizan Belgrade in January, has not as yet demonstrated the physical presence to stamp his mark at United. Antonio Valencia's £17m arrival from Wigan suggests he will regularly take a right-sided role with Obertan on the left.
At 6ft 2in, Obertan looks to have the requisite strength with plenty of step-overs and general tricks to go with it. He demonstrated his class with his goal for France Under-21s against England at Nottingham Forest's City Ground in April and is also remembered vividly by Irish fans who saw their Under-21s demolished almost single-handedly by Obertan 18 months ago. Chelsea's France scout Guy Hillion recommended the player to Luiz Felipe Scolari but the Blanc connection helped seal the United deal.
That said, Blanc has admitted his surprise that a club of United's stature had come in for Obertan and added that the youngster needed to improve in a number of areas if he is to be a success at Old Trafford following an indifferent second half to last season on loan at Lorient. He scored just once in 15 appearances.
"I was surprised too, but it is an unexpected chance for him to play with one of the best clubs in the world," Blanc said. "Manchester United have been tracking him for a long time. They certainly hope to advance him, something that Bordeaux and Lorient have failed to do. He has the potential, but he must overcome psychological and mental challenges so he can express his true value."
Obertan arrives in confident mood, having been named Most Valuable Player at last month's Toulon international youth tournament where France finished runners-up to Chile.
United's 26-year-old goalkeeper Ben Foster has signed a contract extension that will keep him at Old Trafford until 2013, ahead of the season in which he hopes to take the top spot from Edwin van der Sar. Foster missed the end of last season after needing surgery on a ruptured ligament in his right thumb. He has made only 10 appearances for United since arriving in July 2005 from Stoke but took his chance on the big stage in March when his penalty shoot-out heroics helped the club defeat Tottenham Hotspur and lift the Carling Cup.