The Wonder That is John O’Shea-John of All Trades

When Johnny goes marching down the wing,
O’Shea! O’Shea!
When Johnny goes marching down the wing,
O’Shea! O’Shea!
When Johnny goes marching down the wing,
The Stretford End are gonna sing…
“We all know that Johnny’s gonna score”

The wonder of John O’Shea, according to thousands of Manchester United supporters, is that he is somehow a United player.  If they had their say he would play about 4 games for United.  However, so far he has managed close to 400.  Yes, that is not a typo.  In fact John is 30th on United’s all time appearance list, and by the end of next season he should pass the likes of Bruce, Beckham, Law, Crerand, and Stiles.  Yet in 20 years hardly anyone will remember John O’Shea.  Certainly he will not be joining the likes of Schmeichel, Solsksjaer or Ronaldo when fans will look back on the Sir Alex Ferguson era.  Yet John O’Shea has lasted at United for 12 years.  He made his debut after the treble season and was lauded as a versatile and very talented defender.  The future of United.

And John has played a big part in that future.  He has (so far) 4 league medals, 1 FA Cup medal, 3 League Cup medals, and even a European Cup medal (unused substitute, he did play in the loss to Barca a year later).  That is an impressive medal haul.  Especially for a player so many consider to be utter shite, useless, and at fault for most of United’s problems.  When in doubt blame John O’Shea.  Whenever he plays and we fail to win or just give up a goal, someone somewhere will point out that he was to blame in one way or another.  If he was Scottish (like with Fletcher a few seasons back) fans would point out his nationality as the reason he gets picked.  Or that he is Fergie’s illegitimate lovechild (yes, I heard that one, said only partly in jest).  So, just how the hell could such a shit player manage close to 400 games at United?

Seriously, how?!  He has no proper position at which he excels.  And he has played everywhere, and by that I do mean in every possible position.  He has played all across the back line.  He has been a winger, both sides, a central midfielder, hell he has played up front as an emergency striker.  And of course, you not need ask, he has put on keeper gloves and even made a save.  A jack of all trades, and a master of none so it would seem.  He has rarely been first choice anything when everyone was fit.  Yet, since 2002-03 season he has managed to average around 40 games per season.  Managing close to 50 in 5 of those seasons.  So he is not a Scot, does not looks like Fergie, how then?  How the hell did this ideal example of mediocrity manage close to 400 games and counting for United.

The answer to that question is fairly simple.  And in short its because he is one of the most important United squad players.  Yes, he is, shut up.  When first choice defenders and midfielders are healthy and John does not start he is usually on the bench because he can cover for almost any substituted player, and in days of  of 5 on the bench that was even more important, it gave the manager more choices elsewhere.  He can not only do it, but does it well most of the time.  John O’Shea is rarely the best player on the pitch, but he is also usually far from the worst, though in many United fans’ eyes the latter is almost always opposite.  No matter how well O’Shea plays there will always be a section of United fans who will refuse to see it.  At best they’ll admit that he wasn’t shit for a change.  However, while John lacks the flair or the charisma of some other players he is usually stable, dependable, and solid.  Yes, those are not attributes that fans salivate over, but we can’t have a team full of Nanis.  A John O’Shea is a vital and necessary part of any good squad.

He solves so many problems for the gaffer.  A player injured, not a problem, “number 22 come on down!”  Someone needs a rest?  Sure, “here’s Johhny!!!”  Need a change of formation or tactics?  “Mr. O,shea, a call for Mr O’Shea!”  Johny on the Spot he should be called.  As I mentioned he plays anywhere asked.  And not just in emergencies for a few minutes.  When pretty much all of our central midfielders were out in the winter/spring of 2006 he and Giggs run the centre of the midfield for several games, and they were quite good at it.  A big part of our 10 game unbeaten run that lasted till Chelsea showed their dominance that season at the Bridge.  And there are times when he does not play for weeks and then is asked to slot in for an important match because someone gets hurt. He does well and contributes.  You never hear a word of complaint from him.  He never asks for a raise, never for more games, is hardly in the news.  Always loyal.  Does what he is asked to do and goes home.

Of course his detractors will say that he has no reason to moan.  That he should be grateful that he is even allowed to train with the first team…  They will never be convinced.  But we all have our prejudices.  Hardly anyone noticed how poor Evra has been for a year.  But Evra has become a fan favourite, so it took quite a while for him to get some stick from the United faithful.  O’Shea on the other hand is usually the first one blamed whether he deserved it or not.  Now that Fletcher is no longer the fan favourite for “shit” (as one United fan told him to his face at Carrington some years back), its all usually on just O’Shea.  Sure we have a good laugh at Obertan and the Homeless Wonder, but they hardly play and no one really takes them seriously.  O’Shea on the other hand is a vital and long standing member of the squad.  In a couple of weeks he will be 30.  In a few years he will retire.  And if Fergie is still around, it will most likely be as a United player.  This summer we might have two testimonial games, one for former Captain Gary Neville, and one possibly for Paul Scholes.  According to tradition John O’Shea has earned himself a testimonial match.  Though I do not think that one will be a sell out full of tears of sadness and chants of gratitude for such loyal and good service provided for the club.

And that is unfair.  No he should not be remembered on the same level as one of the greatest midfielders we ever had, or possibly our greatest RB and a passionate United supporter.  But we should remember and be thankful for what he truly was (is still).  A solid player who always did his best at any time, at any position, without a word of complaint.  He like so many others who did, could have gone to some other club and would be almost guaranteed a starting place in his favourite position.  He could be Captain of some club, not just a stand in for some Fa Cup game twice a year.  It would have helped his career, he could have made as much money elsewhere and he might have become the Captain of his country then.  But he stayed, grateful for every chance.

He is quiet, unassuming, both on and off the pitch.  Not many back pages are filled with his pictures.  Or many tabloid pages.  And he most likely will leave quietly.  Even though he deserves better.  We have rarely been thankful when it came to John O’Shea.  Yet John had some great moments for us.  That game at Arsenal, with Roy, Gary and Viera.  When Ronaldo got his brace and Johny went marching down the wing.  That was a great game.  Or when we were struggling to keep our points lead and regain the league title in 2007.  And Scholes was sent off, and we prayed for just a point in those dying minutes at Anfailed.  And then Ronaldo took that free kick, and O’Shea……!!!!  And less than two months later, when we were losing to Everton, and the league was slipping away.  He popped up and got one, and we went on to win and to win the league.  That season we all joked how great a striker he was.  He scored 4 league goals on just 5 shots.  80% conversion rate!

But mostly we should remember him not for the moments when he scored for us.  But for those countless times when he came in, did his job well and went quietly back to the bench waiting for his next chance.  So yes, John O’Shea was hardly the best player for United, hell hardly the best defender, or a leftback, or a rightback even.  Usually there was always someone who was in front of him and most of the time, it was for good reason.  They were better.  But no one, for so long, could do what O’Shea did for this club.  And that is why he has lasted for so long and played so many games.  He was never a United favourite, will never be remembered as a legend.  Hell, he’ll hardly be remembered at all.  But he also does not deserve the stick he gets.  He deserves our respect and gratitude for the long years of loyal service.  Because not many players would be willing to do what he does.  I could compile a long list of players who as soon as they lost a starting place have asked to be sold, we all remember them.  Hell some of them are remembered more fondly than O’Shea is.  Even though they refused to do what the does.  Yet John O’Shea does it, does it well and without a word of complaint.  That is what makes him such a vital part of Manchester United.

And that is why he is still here.  To do a job.  Its not glamorous.  It does not get him much praise or appreciation from the fans.  But one praise he gets is most important of all.  He is still around.  Because Fergie knows the importance of John O’Shea and appreciates his service.  That is why he is still puts on that famous red shirt and has done for so many years.  And that should be good enough for us fans.  This is not someone whom Fergie tried for the hell of it, like Dong, Manucho, or Obertan.  Or some kid who is just not good enough, like Eagles, Richardson, or Gibson.  Or a mistake like the Djemba twins, Kleberson, or Prunier.  No, O’Shea has been at United since 1998, and for good reason.

Sir Alex Ferguson- 23 Years at Manchester United

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Great Scot!! He's still at it!

Bloody hell!!!  Its been 23 years since Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United.  When I look back over all those years I don’t think I could have imagined such success and longevity from United and its manager.  These days managers hardly last 2 years, let alone 23.  Yet he survived, flourished in fact.  And he did it at a time when football in England was changing.  The great stubborn Scot changed with it.  And he carried on Matt Busby’s tradition of great attacking and successful football, while utilizing the Manchester United Youth Academy.  Yes there were the Cantonas, Schmeichels, Keanes, but United’s greatest success was the coming of Scholes, Giggs, Butt, Neville, Beckham, and now Fletcher and Evans.  And there are more great youngsters on the verge of the first team.  At the same time Fergie was not afraid to pull the money trigger and break English transfer records to bring in the likes of Ferdinand, Rooney, the above mentioned Cantona, Keane, he tried to buy Ronaldinho, Essien, Shearer, Gascoigne.  Anything to win.  That is Ferguson in a nutshell, he wants to win, and he takes pleasure out of seeing his team develop.  And after 23 years, his drive and joy have not diminished one bit.

That is what makes Fergie great.  He’s a winner.  Everyone knows about his great success at United:

11 League titles

2 Champions League titles

1 Cup Winners Cup

5 Fa Cups

3 League Cups

Amazing, and he won his first trophy in 1990, it was not until 1993 that United won their League title, after 26 years of wait.  In 17 seasons United won the English Premier League 11 times.  But people tend to overlook his success at Aberdeen, before he joined United, he broke up the Celtic/Ranger monopoly, the last manager to win in Scotland not with the Old Firm.  In 8 seasons there he won the SPL 3 times in fact, won the Scottish Cup 4 times, the League Cup once and he won in Europe too.  Little Aberdeen beat the mighty Real Madrid in the Final of the Cup Winners Cup in 1983.  He averages one major trophy per season in since he signed with Aberdeen.  That’s not counting the one off minor trophies.  And he did it on his own.  He did not inherit great teams, he built them.  It was always his way or the highway.

Manchester United was in turmoil when he came.  A big, underachieving club that has not won the League title in almost 20 years, a cup here and there was considered a success to the once proud United.  Managers came and went, United were even relegated in the 70’s for one season.  It was a team that had good players, but they could not win consistently enough.  Drinking culture at the club was rampart, fitness levels were low, and discipline was almost nonexistent.  Ferguson did not like what he saw.  Many other clubs tried to sign him.  Arsenal, Totenham, Rangers of the SPL, but he refused.  He went to United instead.  And on November 6th 1986 everything changed at old Trafford.

He set about getting discipline back to OT, he sold talented, but troubled players, and revamped the United Youth Academy.  Success was not coming though.  The team did not perform any better than it did under previous regimes.  But he stuck it out.  And there were rumours of his imminent sacking.  Fortunately those proved to be false.  Then he started winning, and never looked back.  He kept changing the team but one thing remained constant.  United won and won rather regularly.  There were many times that everyone wrote him off.  Most notably in the summer and early fall of 1995, after he sold a few of his most influential players and stuck unproven kids to replace them.  Alan Hansen’s words still make United fans laugh.  That season United won the English Premier League title, and the FA Cup.  I guess you can win things with kids.  It was not different in just 3 years later.  Arsenal, under their new manager Arsene Wenger won the League and Cup double.  United were written off once again, the time of the mighty Gunners came.  During the 1998-99 season Manchester United won the famous Treble.  The League, FA Cup and the European Champions league, followed by two more League titles in 2000 and 2001.

The 2001-02 season was said to be his last, Arsenal won the League and Fergie was going to retire.  Fortunately he changed his mind.  And he promptly won the League again in 2002-03 season.  Then came the unbeaten Gunners, and Chelsea FC with their money.  100’s of millions of pounds were spent at Stamford Bridge to help Chelsea win titles.  Which they did for two seasons straight.  During that time Manchester United only managed to win the FA Cup once in 2004.  The team was rebuilding.  In the fall of 2005 there was great turmoil.  Roy Keane, the great Manchester United captain, did a controversial interview on MUTV in which he criticized many of his teammates.  Roy was promptly sacked.  Then United followed it up with getting knocked out of the Champions League stages, finishing last in a weak group.  The sky was falling, out of Europe, United’s League form was poor, the Captain gone, calls for Ferguson to leave were coming from all over the place.  Articles were written, fans made banners and chanted for Fergie’s sacking.  He just went on.  United won the League Cup that season, and gave Chelsea a good run for the title, finishing second.

But more controversy followed.  United only signed a back up goalkeeper and a central midfielder, while selling their best scorer to Real Madrid.  At the same time there was hoopla over United’s very talented but very frustrating Cristiano Ronaldo who became enemy number one in England after the World Cup.  And Chelsea had gone from strength to strength, bringing in even more stars like Ballack and Shevchenko.  Chelsea were crowned champions even before the 2006-07 season started.  United were on the decline, and were going to finish below Spurs or even West Ham, in 5th or 6th place.  Ruud van Nistelrooij was sold after falling out with Fergie the previous spring.  United did not buy a new striker.  “Where were the goals going to come from” was a question frequently asked by football writers and fans alike.  Goals did come, and United went back to winning titles.  Ferguson’s patience with the talented, but frustrating Ronaldo paid off, in the following three seasons the young Portuguese winger/forward scored 23, 42, and 26 goals respectively.  Before that his highest tally was 12.  United won the League 3 times.  Reached two Champions League Finals, winning once in Moscow against Chelsea in 2008.  Another League Cup was added.

And Ferguson keeps going.  Now he says he’s not thinking of retiring.  He wants to go on as long as his health allows him.  He is 67, but his drive, joy for football and dedication to Manchester United has not diminished one bit in the 23 years he has been at Old Trafford.  He still does the famous “Fergie Jig” on the sidelines when United score yet another late goal.  He still has fun.  And that the most remarkable thing about him.  He has fun.  He does not shy away from controversy.  He takes on the BBC, referees, the FA, players, other managers, football writers, anyone who stands in his way.  But he still has fun.  He has made mistakes to be sure, he even admitted to some.  But it would be impossible to find a manager who did not over such a long career.  He sold/got rid of many stars for many reasons.  Discipline, Straham, Ince;  Hughes, Kanchelskis, when he thought the team needed a change.  Beckham, when he thought he was too distracted.  Staam, for writing a few things in a book.  Roy Keane for speaking out, Ruud when he fell out with him.  Yet Manchester United kept on winning, and looked stronger after each loss of a player.  The last one was Ronaldo, a player he did not want to sell.  A player he treated with kid gloves, for one reason, the boy was special.  Just like he treated the great but controversial Eric Cantona.  He too was special.  Time will tell how United will cope with the loss of the world’s current best player.  But I know one thing, I wont be betting against Ferguson and United.

I consider Sir Alex Ferguson to be the greatest football manager in the history of the game.  However I am having a hard time in deciding whom to put as United’s greatest manager.  Another Scot, Sir Matt Busby, took over United in 1945.  The team had no stadium, Old Trafford was bombed during WWII.  Before the war it was rubbish.  Even flirting with relegation to the Third Division in the 30’s.  But Matt Busby remade the team.  Along with Jimmy Murphy he changed the way football was played in England.  He too never shied away from controversy.  He relied on young talented players in and age when it was believed that players should not play for the first team till they are in their mid 20’s.  Busby’s Babes, as they were affectionately called, fielded players aged 21, 20, even 17.  Talent mattered, not age.  He defied the Football League and sought glory in Europe by joining in the European Cup competition.  He too sold/got rid of players on a whim.  It was Busby’s way or the highway.  He built a great young team, already great, but on the verge of even more brilliance.  But it was not to last.  After the tragedy at Munich, when United lost 8 of its players and two coaches in an airplane crash, Matt Busby, after fighting for his own life, rebuilt the team once again.  Just 5 years later United won the FA Cup, two seasons after that a League title followed.  In 1968 Matt Busby finally achieved his dream and won the European Cup.  It was after he left that United fell into dark times.

Those lasted until Alex Ferguson came to Old Trafford.  Both Scots came from poor backgrounds, both were good players, and later great managers.  Both believed in attacking football, and sought glory at home and abroad.  Both never shied away from controversy.  Both believed in youth and the United way.  Whom to pick.  I guess I would have to call a draw on this one.  Maybe with one or the other coming in front in “Fergie Time.”

I am a lucky Manchester United fan.  Just old enough to remember some of the dark days, but most of the time I followed United they were playing under Alex Ferguson.  The trophies came, and they came in great bunches.  It was unthinkable to imagine United even reaching Liverpool’s great domestic record of 18 League titles.  When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford the tally was 16-7 in favour of LFC.  Liverpool managed 2 more by 1990.  United were still on 7.  Last May Manchester United celebrated their 18th League Championship.  Yes, 18!!!  Unbelievable.  And Ferguson is still at it.  Now some have written him off already, but he keeps going.  Building another team, watching while his great “Fledglings” are slowly replaced by new younger players, and the team remodels itself for a new era.  Hopefully it will be as great as the previous one.  Ferguson met each challenge head on.  Always looking forward.  The day after United won the Champions League he was already talking about the next season and the challenges it would present.  And while he does not, we should, especially today, look back in wonder at the things he’s achieved with Manchester United.  And looking back all I can say it to quote his reaction after Manchester United came back very late in the game to win the 1999 Champions League Final by scoring two goals.

“Bloody Hell!!!”