Originally Published – 09/06/11 by James (writtenoffside) – If various rumours are to be believed, John O’Shea is on the brink of leaving Manchester United to go to the Steve Bruce rescue centre for unfulfilled footballers at Sunderland in a three way deal that would see him accompanied by Wes Brown and Darron Gibson. Although it would be a shame to see the latter two go, I can fully understand that from all parties, it makes a lot of sense but having thought about it over the last 20 hours or so, I tend to feel that letting the big Irishman leave would be a rare mistake from Sir Alex Ferguson.
Born in Waterford in the South of Ireland, John moved to Manchester when he was 17 and had loan spells at Bournemouth and Royal Antwerp (United’s feeder club at the time) before establishing himself in the 2002-03 season in a variety of positions. And this is the true reason why United should do their best to keep hold of the easy going Irishman. You just cannot put a price on his key asset – versatility. We all know that O’Shea is not the most talented footballer at the club and that he does not possess the skill or poise of a Ferdinand or the pace of an Evra but what he has in spades is commitment, drive and flexibility. He truly is a jack of all trades. This is amply proved by the fact that during his nigh on 400 games at the club (no bad achievement to be honest) he has played in literally every position available on the pitch and always to a decent standard.
Initially, he rose to prominence at left back where he was regularly seen running down the wing and even managed that famous nutmeg of Luis Figo at Old Trafford in a Champions League tie against Real Madrid. This piece of skill is still spoken of today by those who saw the sheer audacity and impudence as one of many reasons to cherish the amiable lad from Waterford. Various stints in all manner of positions have since occurred over the years and he has suffered without doubt by being unable to nail down a set niche in the side.It would be cruel to say he is a “jack of all trades but master of none” but in some ways this can be seen as an affectionate phrase to sum the player up. Whatever role he is assigned by Sir Alex, he will do it without fuss which often means sacrificing himself for the good of the team.
Few will forget his epic brief appearance at White Hart Lane as a substitute for the injured Edwin Van der Sar a few years back when there was no substitute keeper to call on. Grinning from ear to ear, he slipped into the green keeper’s shirt ahead of Rio Ferdinand and managed to keep the home side at bay and delighting the away faithful with his famous block on international colleague Robbie Keane. It was centre back that O’Shea saw as his main position but once he realised that competition for places was going to red hot, he was more than happy to fill any slot that became vacant. Many will recall the culmination of a season when himself and Ryan Giggs were the last men standing in central midfield and although this combination was hardly one to strike fear into the opponents hearts, they responded to the cause with admirable courage and no little quality.
I think one of the reasons that John will always have a special place in United fans hearts is the feeling that he is a normal lad that has made the most of the talent that he has been given. He plays the game with a smile on his face and you get the feeling that he cherishes each and every day in his privileged position. He has also been fortunate to score some vital goals over the years that have contributed massively to iconic moments in United’s history. Few will forget the look on his face as he scored United’s fourth at Highbury a few years back, clipping the ball over Almunia and almost watching time stand still as it finally dawned on the big man that he had put the seal on a famous victory. The penny finally dropped and he had no idea how to celebrate or where to put himself. It made me think this was akin to a fan being given the opportunity in the first team and then low and behold scoring the goal of his dreams to crush our main rivals.
For every United fan, scoring a goal in front of the Kop is something that dreams are made of. To achieve such a feat and then realise that not only has it secured a vital three points but also nudged the club towards yet another league title is something that this “jack of all trades” would not have envisaged as he made his way across the sea at the tender age of 17.
He is clearly a popular lad in the dressing room and his experience will be invaluable to the likes of the Da Silva twins as they embark on the start of what should be a glittering career with the club. To remove such a character who has been taught and also bought into the ethos instilled by the manager would be a risk bearing in mind some of the others that have departed the club recently. It is clear that time moves on and there is no one better than Ferguson in reconstructing squads as has been proved many times over the years but experience counts for so much in the modern age and a further loss could prove difficult to replace.
For all of the reasons mentioned above, it did come as something of a shock to hear that he was the third player in the possible £12million deal with Sunderland. In my view, he is the jewell in the crown for the Wearsiders and it will be with a heavy heart that Sir Alex sanctioned the transfer. Perhaps the wily Scot feels a touch guilty about the way he has used his versatility for the good of the team rather than the player himself and feels the best way to repay John for such loyalty and unstinting support is to allow him the final few years of his career as a big fish at the Stadium of Light where he will find himself among many familiar faces.
However, none of the other ex United players currently there can hold a candle to the kind of successful career as a Manchester United footballer that John has experienced. If the move does go through, I can see him being made captain and I hope that he finally is able to nail down a set position to see out the rest of what has been an utterly unselfish and trophy laden career with the recognition it deserves.
Many thanks to James (www.writtenoffside.com) for permission to publish this. You can follow James on Twitter @writtenoff_mufc