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.

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New Premier League Respect Campaign- An April Fool’s Joke?

To Gain Respect One Must Earn It First

So the motto goes.  Problem with referees is that no matter what you say to them on the pitch you are hardly going to change their mind.  So whether its either “please ref, I got the ball,” or “fuck off ref, I got the fucking ball you blind twat,” the result is likely to be the same.  The ref’s decision is final.  There is of course the school of though about working the referees.  Meaning that if you moan long and loud enough you will get the benefit of the doubt next time, if for no other reason that to shut you up.  I wonder how effective that one is?  I would think that its not as effective as some players believe.  Whether one is respectful or not, its quite futile.  If anything it may just annoy the referee in question.

And players should not want annoyed referees.  Nor should the managers.  I do not believe that the refs are biased, no matter how they appear.  But subconsciously there might be something.  Something that in an instant would make them give a questionable decision against the team they are annoyed with.  Its not a knock on their integrity, its just how human beings work.  A professional referee should of course be above that, but as mentioned, they do belong to our species (its true, they did tests and everything), and are flawed.  A month ago Manchester United visited Chelsea.  And Martin Atkinson had a shocker.  I said this already in the first half.  Before the Luiz non sending off.  United had most of the ball, were not playing physically and in the whole game United were officially fouled 10 times, while the whistle blew 14 times against them.  Now I do not think that Atkinson is a bent ref, but I wholeheartedly agree with Fergie when he said Atkinson was not fair.  He was not.  He sent of Vidic but not Luiz, who could have received 3 yellow cards.  He did not call a penalty on Terry.  And he let several obvious calls go when Chelsea players were fouling United players.  So bent?  No.  Fair?  Hell no!

Martin Atkinson worked the same fixture last season too.  Chelsea got a very soft free kick near the United box, and scored.  There was an obvious foul by a Chelsea player in the area where the ball arrived and because of it Terry was able to score.  Nothing was called and United went on to lose the game by the score 1-0 and then lose the championship to Chelsea by one point.  Is it any wonder why Fergie is not happy with Mr. Atkinson?  To be fair of course, United had their share of favourable calls.  Its not about that really.  Its about the reaction and the new respect campaign that was the result of said reaction.

Fergie got a five game suspension for calling refs shit.  Atkinson unfair and weak, and Whiley (the 2 out of the 5 games are for him) fat and unfit the season before.  And make no mistake, if Fergie does not say this last comment about Atkinson there is no new respect campaign.  So Fergie has a go at a ref.  Now there is breaking news for you!!!  And the FA and the Ref’s association are appalled.  Why?  Was he wrong?  No, only Chelsea fans and ABU’s think Atkinson was fair.  And even some of them will quietly agree with Fergie.  Its not as if the FA and the refs went all out to defend Mr. Atkinson’s performance.  No they just said Fergie should not be saying such things.  And herein lies the problem.  There is no communication.  Now Fergie may have (very likely actually) said all this to deflect from United’s inept second half, but he was still right.  Problem was Fergie has a perfect excuse.  Just minutes after the game he has a microphone shoved into his face and instead of being asked about the tactics, formation, adjustments, he gets asked about the non sending off of Luiz.  So he goes off on a bit of a rant, an accurate one too, and gets five games in the better seats and a private phone line.  And other than shock at Fergie no one from the authorities came out and explained Mr. Atkinson’s decisions.  Mr. Atkinson himself is not allowed to, because god forbid he should explain to the fans why he did what he did.  God forbid we learn how a referee comes to a split second decision.  We don’t want a media fight between the refs and managers or players.  But a nice statement explaining major decisions (such as I did not see the foul, upon reflection I think I got the call wrong, but in the heat of the moment I thought it was the right call, please remember I do not have the benefit of the replay on the pitch).  You know, controversial stuff like that.  A simple explanation and a reminder to all of us that they have only a second to make that call and no replays.  How shocking would that be?  Now of course some see this idea as referees having to answer every questionable decision and if once they do engage in the debate their will be sucked into it.

Terry showing respect

The problem is they are sucked into it anyway, without us hearing from the man who actually made the call.  Now how many of us would love to have Mr. Clettenberg explain that Nani goal against Spurs?  Or why he did not send of Rooney and his elbow?  A simple and short explanation of his point of view and we could move on.  Instead we speculate to this day.  And we wait.  We would still have to wait to find out why Graham Poll waited for a third yellow to send of that Croatian bloke in the 2006 WC, but he wrote a book.  Because of said book we got to find out why John Terry was sent off by Mr. Poll in the 200-07 season.  Right in the middle of the FA’s  last Respect campaign.  Wonder how Mr. Poll felt about that one?  Oh wait!  We know, he retired and told us what he thought of it.  It was a joke.  He dared to send off the captain of England for dissent and stories started in the media.  Mr. Poll was a spotlight whore.  he loved to be the centre of attention.  And what did the FA do, even after Terry admitted to the charge?  Nothing.  They did not back their referee.  And soon after that the respect campaign became a joke, we went back to Rooney, Terry, Cole, Gerrard and others abusing and arguing with the refs.  But apparently Sir Alex Ferguson is the problem.  Players are really an afterthought.

This incident did not reignite the respect campaign

And its not what happens after the game, whether or not Babel retweets some silly picture, or what Fergie or Moyes says.  Who cares!!!  Because for 90 minutes I see constant arguing by the players, they question every decision.  I see players trying to get other players sent off by either waiving that annoying imaginary card or screaming at the ref reminding him about a previous decision.  And I have a feeling that by this time next year we will have as much respect on the pitch as we do now.  Because the authorities will not back the refs.  Nor will the media.  The media will moan when the first ref sends off a famous player for dissent.  “Oh no, he destroyed the game, he should have done everything to keep 22 players on the pitch, he thinks he’s important, he wants the spotlight, arrogant ref, is that really worth a sending off, etc, etc,.”  You can see the headlines now.  And soon after that the refs will be told to quietly ignore the abuse, the cheating, the card waving, and we will go on as always.

I noticed something this week.  I was watching the friendly between Germany and Australia.  And while Germany had some shocking calls go against them, especially that joke of a penalty, the German players hardly went after the ref and his assistants.  They made weak protests or none at all, and went on with the game.  Meanwhile Australian players, especially the EPL veteran Lucas Neill was in the ref’s face after every call no matter how obvious.  It was a stark contrast in reactions.  But the Germans were taught that dissent will be punished, while Mr. Neill got away with it for years in England.  How else was he supposed to react?  I watch the NHL and I remember the times when coaches used to throw water bottles and sticks onto the ice in protest, and players went after refs like they do in English football.  But not long ago the NHL instituted a no nonsense policy, and no dissent is allowed.  And the players just meekly go in to the penalty box even after the worst of calls. while the coaches politely ask sometimes for an explanation.  Imagine that.

Rooney, "respectfully" disagreeing

Imagine Rooney or Ashley Cole just walking away after a bad call, or standing quietly while they are being booked for an offence.  Yes its fantasy, but in any other country it does happen.  Unlikely in England of though.  The refs are too weak, the authorities are cowards and the media complicit.  A perfect storm for the first time someone gets sent off.  Now while this month long story about Fergie and Atkinson raged I laughed.  I have no problem when managers speak their minds, even if they question the refs in a manner that Fergie did.  I don’t even have a problem if managers give a bit of abuse to the fourth official during the game.  Its no biggie, the fourth official does nothing anyway, so who cares if he gets an earful.  My problem is that after the game no one will explain to us why the calls were made.  No matter what Fergie said I have my own opinions.  Now being a United fan I think of Fergie as god.  But bing an atheist I don’t really believe in what gods say.  So he could have come out and said that Atkinson had done the best job he has ever seen and I would still think he was utter shite.  I do have eyes and a brain.  So do most fans.  We know that Fergie was trying to deflect.  We only agreed with Fergie about Atkinson, he did not change our minds.  And that is the issue.  Who cares what the managers say after games.  They questions they are asked are stupid, pointless, and obvious anyway, and most of the time the answers are bland, cookie cutter, obvious crap.  A big yawn.

And that is what the new respect campaign will be if the FA wont change.  We all have a good laugh, to this day, at Graham Poll, but he was a very good ref.  And that is how the authorities supported one of its best.  How will they support the next ref who dares to act?  I think in the same way.  In order for this new joke of a campaign to work, before each game the referees must call the two captains and tell them that no dissent will be tolerated, only the captains can speak to the ref (respectfully), no one is allowed to touch or approach closer than 3 feet of the refs, and card waving will mean an instant yellow.  And any break of said rules will mean a caution, or in serious cases a sending off, and then the refs must follow their own instructions.  And afterward the league and ref association must back the refs fully.  And let them speak for god’s sake!  And this must continue not for 3 months but for the whole season and seasons beyond.  And the managers must be given some slack about what they say during the game or after it.  Only then will this work.  because the first time Ashley Cole refuses to come to the ref when called and gets away with it, the respect campaign will be over!!!