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.