Tag John O’Shea

Tag John O’Shea

Farewell to old Reds

July 7, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 28 comments

Wesley Brown and John O’Shea each agreed moves to Sunderland on Thursday, ending more than a decade of the pair at Old Trafford. Between them the players have appeared on more than 750 occasions for Manchester United, not representing the very best players at Old Trafford, but invaluable members of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad nonetheless. With the pair’s departure Ferguson loses not only experience and loyalty but a genuine sense of what being a United play entails.

Brown, 31, completed a medical at the Stadium of Light on Thursday and has agreed a four-year with Steve Bruce’s Wearsiders. The fee, which is officially ‘undisclosed’, will net United £1 million for youth team product. Meanwhile, O’Shea, 30, also completed a move to Sunderland, having passed a medical and agreed a four-year contract with the club. United will earn a fee of around £5 million for the Waterford-born Irishman.

Each has lost his place in the United first team – some might say neither ever fully earned it – with Brown falling out of favour following a well-publicised argument with Ferguson during last summer’s tour of North America. Few players have ever returned from falling foul of the Scot’s ire; that Brown reportedly called Ferguson a “c*nt” cannot have helped the Longsight-born player’s cause.

Despite the breakdown in the relationship between player and manager Ferguson was magnanimous with his praise of Brown today, praising the 31-year-old’s commitment to the cause since his début in 1998.

“He was a product of the youth system and marked himself out from an early age as one of his generation’s most natural defenders,” Ferguson told ManUtd.com.

“In his time with us, he certainly became a favourite with the fans for his no-nonsense approach to the game and his infectious personality.

“It’s always the hardest of decisions to let loyal servants go. But life moves on and, unquestionably, Wes will get the chance to make a real contribution to Steve Bruce’s Sunderland and I’m delighted to be passing him into such good hands. Everyone connected with United wishes him a long and happy stay at Sunderland.”

Brown has always been one of the most naturally gifted English defenders; a home-made Rio Ferdinand whose talent was only ever limited by injury. It is no disservice to say that had it not been for one of the game’s most lengthy injury records Brown could have amassed more than a century of caps for England, and not just 23. He would surely have also made more than 500 appearances for United bar for frequent trips to the treatment room.

The player earned rave reviews for early appearances at right-back, including the 6-2 thrashing of Brondby in Copenhagen during the treble-winning season, but it was at centre-half that the defender was at his natural best, offering the Reds acceleration over 20 yards, a fearless competitive streak and perfect timing.

“It was disappointing not to have played as much as I could at Manchester United over the last couple of seasons so just to know that I’ll be back in, playing, I’m focusing on that really and looking forward to it,” said Brown.

“Last season, I couldn’t get into the team and that was frustrating but that’s football and you move on. Sunderland is a big club and Steve Bruce was a big factor coming into it. That’s what it came down to really. When I was younger, I used to watch Steve and I’ve known him a bit as well so it was fine. I know a couple of lads who have been here and they say it’s a wonderful club and I thought this was the place for me to come.”

Brown will join former Reds Phil Bardsley, Kieron Richardson and Fraizer Campbell on Wearside, together with O’Shea. United midfielder Darron Gibson is also wanted by Bruce, although Sunderland baulked at the midfielder’s opening salary demands during negotiations. Together the trio were the subject of a £12 million bid in late June.

Meanwhile, O’Shea arguably has never possessed the same natural talent as Brown but won over United’s supporters with a vibrant début campaign, largely at left-back. The popular chant of “Johnny marching down the wing” began during O’Shea’s early years at the club that promised so much but rarely delivered in subsequent campaigns.

O’Shea’s versatility undermined his attempt to earn a regular first-team place, while also offering the Irishman a longevity at Old Trafford that bemused many fans. The player appeared across the back-four, in central midfield and even in goal during more than a decade at the club.

“John has been a solid, consistent part of Manchester United’s squad for well over a decade which goes to show the fantastic pedigree of player we have signed,” claimed Bruce on Thursday.

“He is a wonderful professional both on and off the field and his wealth of experience and versatility will be great attributes for us. I’m delighted with the players we’ve been able to secure ahead of the new season.”

Allowing Brown and O’Shea to move on for relatively modest fees is part of an unwritten Old Trafford policy of rewarding loyalty with minimal barriers for the players involved. The reward: long-term security at Sunderland that would not have been available at Old Trafford.

Supporters and ex-colleagues will wish the pair the best, while room has been made in Ferguson’s squad for younger players to come through.

Fergie signals end of era with Jones signing

June 9, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 78 comments

It turned out to be an extraordinary day of transfer activity, so soon into the summer window, as Sir Alex Ferguson closed in on £16 million Blackburn Rovers defender Phil Jones. The England Under-21 international has reportedly agreed terms on a five-year deal and is likely to become the first of several signings before the window closes at August’s end. Manchester United will likely also confirm the signatures of Aston Villa’s Ashley Young and the Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea in the coming weeks.

Yet, as Isaac Newton might agree, every action has a reaction, especially when wage budgets and squad sizes must be balanced. Not equal, perhaps, but for United the inbound talent ensures the revolving door marked exit remains busy this summer. Just as United supporters embrace the new-boy Jones, then a heartfelt goodbye will be heard for John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Darron Gibson, reportedly the subject of a £12 million bid from Sunderland today.

Supporters have, after all, been promised one of the busiest summers in recent memory, with significant deadwood cleared out of Old Trafford’s burgeoning squad, balanced by returning loanees and heavier expenditure than has become the norm under the Glazer family’s ownership over the past six years.

Indeed, this summer is promising to create more change in the United squad than has been seen for years. It is an accelerating evolution that will end a cycle at United in a less gradual way that is typical under Ferguson’s stewardship.

Moreover, in Brown and O’Shea, Ferguson is losing significant experience. One club men at that. Between them the latter pair has amassed more than 750 appearances in the Red shirt, adding to the departures of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar, which robs Ferguson of more than 1500 club appearances.

In experience’s place comes youth. Young, at 25, is the oldest of United’s most discussed signatures, while de Gea is just 21. Arguably though Jones, 19, is the most exciting of the trio; a classy centre half already noted for his leadership skills.

Indeed, some observers rate Jones ahead of Chris Smalling, who so thoroughly impressed during his debut Old Trafford season. With Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur chasing Jones’ signature, United has certainly paid top dollar for the player but one who could represent the club for more than a decade.

“I think he’s an amazing young talent and he could easily go on and become an England centre-half in years to come,” admitted Harry Redknapp today, with the Spurs’ manager admitting defeat over Jones’ acquisition.

“I was in for Phil Jones. We were interested in him but it looks like he’s gone to Manchester United. I think he’s a great singing for Man United. We’re struggling to find people that are better than what we’ve got. It’s not easy unless you pay massive money and massive wages.”

United has certainly spent ‘massive money’ buying out Jones’ reported £16 million release clause. And it is of course a gamble for a player with less than 50 senior games for Blackburn plus a dozen international age-group games.

But Ferguson has never been scared of risks in the transfer market, splurging up to £27 million on teenage Wayne Rooney in summer 2004. de Gea will also represent a significant gamble when the Spaniard’s signature is confirmed sometime after 1 July.

Not that the teenage defender Jones will go straight into the United side of course, with Jones likely to act as back-up to Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Smalling at centre-half next season. It is an area of United’s squad that felt threadbare at times, with Brown, Evans, Ferdinand and even Vidic injured during over the 2010/11 campaign.

Yet, while Jones may not be for the present, there is no little irony in a signature that will affect Jonny Evans most acutely. The Northern Irishman was once dubbed United’s future but has arguably forced Ferguson’s hand with a series of sub-par performances over the past year. Jones’ acquisition is unlikely to be terminal for Evans’ United career but the Belfast-born player may now find more opportunities at full-back than in the past.

While Jones, de Gea and Young begin their United careers Brown and O’Shea have earned both respect and gratitude for their efforts in the United cause over more than a decade. Both graduates of United’s academy, neither have fulfilled the glorious promise of youth but have served the club with distinction and pride.

Brown has always been one of the most naturally gifted English defenders over that time; a home-made Ferdinand whose talent was only ever limited by injury. It is no disservice to say that had it not been for one of the game’s most lengthy injury records Brown could have amassed more than a century of caps for England, rather than just 23. He would surely have also made more than 500 appearances for United bar for frequent trips to the treatment room.

Making his début in 1998, Brown earned rave reviews for early appearances at right-back, including the 6-2 thrashing of Brondby in Copenhagen during the treble-winning season. But it was at centre-half that the Longsight-born player was most natural, offering the Reds acceleration over 20 yards, a fearless competitive streak and perfect timing.

O’Shea has never possessed the same natural talent but won over United’s supporters with a vibrant début campaign largely at left-back. After all, it is no accident that United fans laud “Johnny marching down the wing.”

But O’Shea’s versatility undermined his United career, while also offering him a longevity that bemused some fans. The Irishman appeared right across the back-four, in central midfield and even in goal during more than a decade at the club.

Yet, while there is little surprised in Gibson’s departure, with United reportedly refusing to offer a contract extension beyond 2012, nor in Brown’s, O’Shea’s flexibity appeared to have guaranteed a place in next season’s squad. After all the Waterford-born defender started nearly 30 games for the club in all competitions last season.

And that is where the fun of transfer silly season becomes most acute. Sunderland’s is, at this stage, just a bid. Neither officially accepted by player nor club. One that could but seems unlikely to fail.

Fergie’s deployment of O’Shea proves masterstroke

February 13, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 62 comments

With Rafael da Silva in fine form, few expected John O’Shea to start yesterday’s Manchester derby. The Irishman, who is known more for his versatility than virtuosity, has been in poor form this season but his deployment was crucial to Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.

There is no doubting Rio Ferdinand’s importance to United’s defence; a leader on the pitch, the English defender provides composure to the back line. United’s defence is much more prone to jittery moments without Ferdinand. With inexperienced Chris Smalling playing alongside Nemanja Vidic yesterday, it would have been too risky to play two attacking full-backs in Rafael and Patrice Evra. O’Shea limited his forward forages and helped stabilise the defence by providing extra cover.

It was a brilliant decision by Sir Alex Ferguson.

This column has previously argued that United’s deployment of two attacking defenders in a 4-4-2 based system has been responsible for United central midfielders’ collective poor form this season. Even against teams playing a lone forward, the Reds’ two at the back are exposed to too much pressure without support from central midfield. United’s central midfielders need to combat opposition midfielders, provide ammunition to forward players and defend as well; they end up trying to do everything and failing all.

With O’Shea, Smalling and Vidic staying back yesterday, Manchester City’s forwards were completely neutralised. United midfielders and forwards were freed by the extra defensive player at the back.

This freedom was particularly appreciated by Paul Scholes. As brilliant as he is, the English midfielder has performed noticeably worse in games where he is exposed to great pressure. Ferguson deployed Scholes deep to afford the midfield maestro extra time but even in this role, the midfielder was pressured as City played pressing game as a response to United’s deep line. With three behind him – instead of the usual two – Scholes always had an easy option to recycle possession.

In addition, Darren Fletcher and Anderson could play box-to-box roles because of the defensive stability brought on by O’Shea. O’Shea allowed Scholes to dictate the play and Fletcher and Anderson could make runs from deep, instead of helping out at the back.

Fletcher and Anderson’s running had two effects. Firstly, Scholes was afforded even more protection as United’s midfield runners pinned back City’s midfield players. Secondly, City’s defensive midfielders could not double up on Giggs and Nani.

City introduced Edin Džeko in the second half and switched to a 4-4-2. O’Shea’s presence allowed United to introduce Berbatov and match City’s system without Vidic and Smalling being overwhelmed by Džeko and Carlos Tevez.

O’Shea didn’t have a particularly spectacular game but he did what Ferguson had in mind. The game was won by a spectacular Wayne Rooney strike but the scene was very aptly set up by the Scot and his Irish defender.

John O'Shea Tactics Board

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

The Rooney effect: wages rocket

October 27, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 30 comments

Reports that John O’Shea is to sign a new four year contract worth – wait for it – £80,000 a week is proof if any is needed that intense wage pressure remains in football, despite the downturn in transfer market spending. Even Manchester United, relatively prudent on the wage front for so long, is now no longer immune to the madness it seems.

Aside from wage inflation in the wider football community, the effects of Wayne Rooney’s lavish new £180,000 a week contract will now be felt throughout the club. One of the key challenges for United in raising the bar for Rooney’s aggressively negotiated deal is the trickle down effect on the club’s squad. While the United’s leading players will seek, if not parity, then close to it with the 24-year-old striker, even squad players such as O’Shea can now expect a hefty rise.

The Irishman is out of contract in 2012 along with a rash of other United players and the club is expected to conclude talks with each by next summer. That O’Shea turns 30 in April is seemingly not affecting the club’s thinking on a new long-term deal for the Waterford-born player.

Meanwhile, Patrice Evra’s new offer is reportedly worth around £100,000 a week. The Frenchman, out of contract in 2012, also turns 30 this season. Anderson, also a free agent in two years time, is likely to settle for a little less unless Ferguson finally loses patience beforehand. Bless.

While no negotiations have begun with Dimitar Berbatov, the Bulgarian is out of contract in June 2012, as is Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher, who can expect at least parity with O’Shea.

The new contracts are among several deals at Old Trafford in the recent past. Park Ji-Sung signed a three-year deal last season that pays the South Korean a relatively miserly £65,000 each Friday, while Nemanja Vidic finally accepted a £90,000 deal in late summer that will keep the Serbian at Old Trafford until 2015.

The increase in wages at United reflects salary inflation in the wider football industry, although fans may ponder where exactly O’Shea could earn the £4.16 million a year he is set to receive at Old Trafford. The deals may also account for the creation next April of a new higher rate tax band of 50 per cent on wages over £150,000 per year. And even Bébé earns that much.

Despite the heavy pressure on wages during the Glazer family’s tenure at Old Trafford, United’s wage-to-turnover ratio remains a very healthy 46 per cent. Wages are growing but revenues have grown faster in the past five years. The ratio is easily the lowest in the Premier League, with notoriously parsimonious Arsenal on 49 per cent.

In recent seasons though United has fallen behind both Chelsea and Manchester City in the Premier League wages ‘league table’. According to City’s last accounts, the blue half of Manchester spends more than £133 million on wages, compared to United’s audited £132 million. However, with City yet to report its 2009/10 figures, a further rise is expected at Eastlands, accounting for the deals that brought David Silva, James Milner, Jérôme Boateng and Aleksandar Kolarov to Eastlands this summer.

Chelsea spends an eye-watering £149 million per season – 68 per cent of turnover – to head the Premier League wages table. But even Roman Abramovich is a skinflint compared to Europe’s leading clubs. Real Madrid’s provisional salary budget stands at £190 million, while Barcelona has recently set a budget for sporting salaries of £192 million for the current season.

The challenge for United of course is to keep the overall budget below the 50 per cent cap the Glazer family has set as policy in a period of heavy pressure, while remaining competitive for leading players. Indeed, if the club is forced into raising salaries for even mediocre performers such as O’Shea then pressure is likely to be felt elsewhere in the business to find new revenue streams and cut other costs.

United’s penny-pinching in recent seasons has seen several rounds of redundancies in back-office staff and even an end to visitors’ snacks in the Carrington canteen.

Fortunate for the Glazer family then that six players are out of contract in the summer. None of Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves nor Michael Owen has been offered a new deal by the Old Trafford hierarchy.

There is speculation that the American owners may loosen the purse strings in the coming summer. Talk of bringing in marquee names  is cheap though.

O’Shea’s new contract is definitely not.

The fight for right back

August 2, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 44 comments

The 2006-2007 season saw Manchester United regain the Premier League title for the first time in four years. It also marked Gary Neville’s most recent appearance in the PFA team of the year. Near the end of the campaign Neville suffered a long-term injury, which kept him out of consistent first team action for nearly 18 months.

Since then United has yet to settle on a starting right back, with four men competing for the spot – a problem Sir Alex Ferguson is yet to resolve.

During the following Premier and Champions League double winning season Wes Brown took a hold of the position, with 52 appearances in all competitions. Throughout the season the Longsight-born defender was solid and even popped up with some major contributions going forward in the form of a goal against Liverpool and an assist in the Champions League final against Chelsea.

After getting off to a decent start in the 2008-2009 Brown was hit by another major injury, just as Neville returned from his layoff, allowing teenager Rafael Da Silva to make the first team. Despite the return of United’s captain and the Brazilian phenomenon’s rise to prominence it was in fact John O’Shea who laid claim to the slot, starting most of United’s big games in the position that season.

Last season saw a plethora of injuries to the United backline and everyone from Ritchie De Laet to Darren Fletcher got a chance in the right back role. Now as the Red Devils kick off a new campaign the right back question is still unresolved, with few clues about who will start against Newcastle United on August 16th.

Many supporters are campaigning for youth, with Rafael promoted as the man most likely to make the role his own. Sir Alex has shown lots of confidence in Rafael in the past, starting the 20-year-old in big games, most notably the second leg against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarter final. Rafael was infamously sent off that night, an event that led to the Germans winning the tie.

But Rafael’s promise showed in how well the player performed in direct competition against Franc Ribéry before the red card, getting forward regularly and keeping the lively French midfielder quiet for the most part.

The criticism of Rafael is his defensive naïvety. The Brazilian sometimes gets caught too high up the pitch and is forced into making poor decisions like the one against Munich and earlier in the season when he conceded a penalty against Manchester City. But Rafael has improved in the tackle over the past year and if there is still a major question mark defensively then the youngster is undoubtedly United’s best right back moving forward.

O’Shea represents the cautious option, with little pace and a tendency towards the lethargic in possession. Defensively Ferguson will have very few concerns though. The Irishman proved himself in the position throughout the 08-09 season and despite a slow start during the early part of his United career, O’Shea has become a fans’ favourite as a result of his work ethic and acceptance to play any role required.

Brown, however, showed himself a liability at centre back last season, and when he did get a chance at right back the brilliance demonstrated in United’s double winning season had disappeared. Brown is another player who Ferguson is delighted to have in the squad because of his versatility. It will still be a surprise to see the 30-year-old start at right back considering it has been more than two years since the role was his.

Then there is club captain Neville, who is likely playing in his last season with United. His playing time will probably reflect that fact. Neville is a good influence on the younger players at the club but the frequency with which the 35-year-old is skinned by mediocre left wingers is worrying. The ultimate pro may just have to accept a bit part role with United this coming season.

In the end the right back position will probably be fought over by O’Shea and Rafael, barring any injuries. While the romantic choice is the Brazilian, the most likely outcome is that he will share the role with O’Shea based on the opponent, with Neville providing cover against weaker opposition.

Bra-gate scandal rocks Old Trafford

April 7, 2010 Tags: , Just for fun 2 comments

For those of a nervous disposition look away now as Manchester United’s John O’Shea takes to the Seinfeld school of moob management with a training ground sports bra!

O’Shea, who made his return to the United side after four months out on Wednesday night, is not known to be a cross-dresser. Until now.

“You want me to wear a bra?” O’Shea might say.

“No, no, a bra is for ladies. Meet the Bro!” Ferguson did not add!

“Bro’s no good. Too ethnic.”
“You got something better?”
“How about the Mansiere?”
“That’s right. A brassiere for a man.”

Brown out, O’Shea in

March 8, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 2 comments

Wes Brown has broken the fifth metatarsal in his left foot and will miss the rest of the season, reports suggest today. The injury, which forced the defenders’ half-time substitution at Wolverhampton Wanderers, will keep the 30-year-old out of the World Cup in South Africa. Brown has suffered another injury-hit season, appearing 25 times.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who has only just welcomed back Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic from long-term injuries, has suffered the loss of all first team defenders this season, except for Patrice Evra.

Brown’s injury means that Rafael da Silva will start United’s Champions League tie with AC Milan at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, John O’Shea, absent with a blood clot in his thigh since November, could make a surprise return to action by May. The Irishman, who suffered the injury in Ireland’s World Cup play-off with France, was expected to sit out the rest of season. The defender has taken medication to ease the injury but could make the United side for the final few games of the season.

Evans fit but O’Shea out for two months

January 2, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts No comments

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is back in training and could figure for the club within 10 days but John O’Shea is out for another two months, according to manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Evans, who has suffered with an ankle injury all season, has been training with the first team this week. Irishman O’Shea picked up a thigh injury against France in November.

“There is no sign at all of recovery for John,” said Ferguson of O’Shea’s problem.

“It is his first injury at the club and he is a big loss because he is such a versatile player. We just want to get him back but it could be a couple of months yet.’

“Jonny has been involved in the football side for a few days. He is doing well and should be back quicker, within the next 10 days or so.”

However, Ferguson says that there no date set for the return of injured defender Rio Ferdinand, who has not featured for United in more than two months.

“Rio is nowhere near that but the main thing is there is no recurrence of the back problem. That is what we have been waiting for. We wanted him to come through the test of running and turning. He is doing his programme in the gymnasium, which is good and at the moment it is looking very healthy.”

Unlikely heroes – Patty, Fletch and Sheasy

November 27, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments

Three players: Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea. Great players today but each has suffered at Manchester United. Evra, taken off at half-time on début, did not have the most auspicious start. It was not uncommon to hear United fans dub Fletcher “Fergie’s son,” based on the notion that the Scot played only because of the land of his birth. And O’Shea…well, he’s John O’Shea.

But the effort put into their respective careers has seen each transformed from flops to favourites. So much so that Patty, Fletch and Sheasy can lead United to glory, confident in their status as fans’ favourites.

Patrice Latyr Evra, born 15th of May 1981, started his football career at a small French club, CO Les Ulis. At 16, accepted into the academy, the Dakar-born defender joined Paris Saint-Germain before moving to Italian club Marsala for his first professional contract. After a successful start to his career, including time at Monza in Serie B and then Nice, Evra signed for AS Monaco, following a switch from left-wing to left-back.

Four years later and Evra signed for United, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Inter Milan reportedly interested. It was the start of Evra’s rise to the pinacle of world football.

Evra’s journey wasn’t smooth sailing though. Substituted at half-time on début in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, many felt incumbent full-back Gabriel Heinze had little concern in keeping Evra at bay.

Nevertheless, the Frenchman pushed through his difficulties and soon became an important part of the team. He scored his first Premier League goal against Everton in 2006. By 2008, Evra was an essential part of United’s defence.

Over the years Evra has grown on United fans due to his unwavering loyalty to the club and his effusive personality – Evra one part of a comedy trio with Ji-Sung Park and Carlos Tevez. Evra’s altercation with Chelsea ground staff, together with outstanding performances on the pitch, probably didn’t hurt either.

While fans could never accuse Evra of being ‘Fergie’s Son’ that was the charge laid at Fletcher’s door early in his career. Presumably because that was the only explanation for his place in the team? But nine years on, and thousands of disrespectful comments later, Darren Fletcher is now seen as a midfielder in the world-class bracket. United’s world-class midfielder.

But Fletcher has always divided opinion. Some supporters viewed the Dalkeith-born midfielder as little more than decent backup. Others pushed the merits of local talent and not an import.

Fletcher began his career as a much-vaunted creative midfielder. Club insiders had earmarked the Scot for Beckham’s right-wing slot.

“Ferguson is convinced that in teenage prodigy Darren Fletcher, he has a youngster who will make a sensational impact when he breaks into the first-team. The 16-year-old Scot, already rated Beckham’s understudy, is so integral to Ferguson’s future plans that the manager took the lad into his own home to convince him to move to Old Trafford,” was ESPN’s analysis in 2000.

But Fletcher’s first few seasons at Old Trafford, hampered by serious injury, slowed the player’s development into the central midfielder Ferguson relies upon today. Fletcher did not convince everybody – famously the Scot was singled out by Roy Keane for public criticism.

“I can’t understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher,” the Irishman reportedly said.

Fletcher’s progress stalled, with Ferguson’s preferred midfield of Cristian Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs blocking his path to a regular game. The arrival of Owen Hargreaves and Anderson made Fletcher’s departure seem all but inevitable. There were even rumors that Fletcher considered leave the club.

In many ways 2009 was a watershed in Fletcher’s career. The Scot fought his way back into the first team picture, with a string of stellar performances. More to the point, Ferguson illustrated Fletcher’s increasing importance to the team by leaving the midfielder out of Carling and FA Cup games.

The Scot’s red card against Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final may have devastated Fletcher personally but United’s performance in the final highlighted only served to highlight his newfound importance to the team.

But perhaps the highest praise came from former-Liverpool legend Graeme Souness.

“I believe he will be, arguably, United’s most important player for the next seven years,” claimed the 54-cap Scot.

Fletcher, O'Shea, Evra

It has been a different path for John O’Shea to first team success. Possibly United’s most versatile player, O’Shea has been through the ups and downs of playing for the world’s greatest club since joined at 17. Making his début in 1999, after loan spells at Bournemouth and Belgian side Royal Antwerp, O’Shea benefited from his versatility to force his way into the first team squad.

But the Irishman’s biggest stroke of luck came in 2004 when Rio Ferdinand, suspended for missing a mandatory drugs test, handed O’Shea a home in central defence. O’Shea helped United triumph in that season’s FA Cup Final.

However, poor form the following year led to speculation that O’Shea would leave the club, linked as he was with a move to Newcastle United and Liverpool. Injuries to Gary Neville in 2006 offered the defender further opportunities in the first team but he failed to impress and was another player condemned by Roy Keane in the now infamous MUTV outburst.

But just as O’Shea’s United future looked dire, the Waterford-born player managed to win his way into supporters’ hearts with a solid performance against Tottenham Hotspur – in goal – following Edwin van der Sar’s injury. Then O’Shea scored an added-time winner against Liverpool at Anfield to cement his status. During the 2008 season, O’Shea even played as an emergency striker giving the Irishman the unique distinction of having played in every position for the team.

Last season O’Shea was a key player for United, scoring against Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final first leg. He finished the final as one of United’s better players.

O’Shea’s status as first choice right-back has continued, even captaining the side against Birmingham City this term. At Stoke City O’Shea played – and scored in – his 350th appearance for the club. A remarkable achievement for the man so few had believed in.

“I could play John anywhere. He has great passing awareness, two good feet, he is quick, and he is balanced. He’s athletic, big and gets around well,” is Sir Alex Ferguson’s summary of the player’s newfound importance to the team.

While some still criticise O’Shea for being mediocre, he is now a vital part of the United squad. This is unlikely to change, after all how many players can Sir Alex trust in almost any position?

Three different players: Evra, Fletcher and O’Shea. Each has been subject to criticism from fans. Each has suffered on the road to stardom. But now United can boast the world’s finest left back, a world-class midfielder and John O’Shea … well he’s pretty awesome too.

An ode to John O’Shea

November 15, 2009 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

Whilst fans hotly debate the comings and goings of January’s upcoming transfer market, lest we not forget the true heroes of football. John O’Shea comes as no better example.  For many the loveable idiot within United’s international set-up, O’Shea is now approaching his tenth season with United. Rant marks O’Shea’s anniversary in all his glory.

A fan’s favourite, O’Shea is also a regular fixture at international level with the Republic of Ireland.O’Shea is probably the most versatile player ever to grace the modern game, having played in goal in United’s famous 2007 win at White Hart Lane. The Irishman also played up-front, scoring the the winner, at Anfield in the same year. A feat that should not be underestimated as the game was pivotal to United finally clinching the title that season.

The 28-year-old has dabbled in central midfield and, though a centre half by trade, seems more accomplished in the right wing-back role. If that was O’Shea’s rite-of-passage he should be relieved to have finished the ordeal. But there seems little in O’Shea’s character to suggest that he minds too much. As long as he is involved, he is happy. The true glory of O’Shea.

Ferguson has rewarded the attitude, with the manager now placing the Irishman as United’s first choice right-back, ahead of the England’s incumbent and teammate Wes Brown.

Brown, magnificent prior to another recent injury lay-off, has lost his place in the starting eleven to O’Shea. Youngster Rafael, with such raw talent, has been unable to displace Ireland’s key defender, and even the club-Captain Gary Neville must now play second fiddle.

The Waterford-born star is also one of the few United players to rarely be troubled with injury throughout his time at the club. It’s a feature of O’Shea’s make-up that has become extremely useful for Sir Alex Ferguson.

O’Shea recently past 350 appearances for United, and is not far from surpassing the Scot Arthur Albiston, who made 485 appearances. That would, almost unbelievably, place O’Shea 10th on the all-time United appearances list.

Trivial facts that should not be underestimated. Many players have an instant impact at Old Trafford but are just as easily forgotten. Dwight Yorke, for example, was at times a superb player for United but lacked the inherent quality to maintain his level for many years. Performances on the pitch are key for Ferguson, with Yorke’s ‘character’ a point of friction for the Scot.

O’Shea, a model of complete professionalism, deserves significant credit. To have survived at Old Trafford for so long, Sir Alex must must not doubt for a moment his capabilities.

Yet it is obvious that O’Shea is not the most gifted player to have pulled on a United shirt. But that is not to doubt the Irishman’s impact – amid too many Prima Donas, there simply aren’t enough John O’Shea’s.