Following on from our flashback of Darren Fletcher, let’s take a look at how things have changed for John O’Shea over the years.

May 11th 2001: “We`ve had a dry spell for a couple of years,” said Ferguson. “At some stage you have to let the system unchoke and allow it to breathe again. Now we are looking not bad again, we are very pleased at the standard that is coming through, we are back on track a little bit. You can’t always have it perfect, but there are signs now that we are getting there again, the likes of the Stewarts, O’Sheas, Roches and Fletchers look like they could get into the first team eventually. It is always a part of our club to produce our own players. That creates the spirit at our club and I am pleased things are looking good again.”

March 10th 2002: “My performances have been up and down,” O’Shea admitted of his time so far in Antwerp. “Some matches I was content, some weren’t that bad. I am looking forward to playing in the next few matches and developing further. It is a fantastic experience to play here but I am the first to say that my performances in some matches were not good enough. I shouldn’t have any problems. It`s just that everything is new and you have to accustom to things. I have moved to a foreign country and play in a team whose players I don’t know. I came into contact with an new style of living and had to acclimatise to the new surroundings. You cannot underestimate that. My girlfriend came over but it is a pity she will stay living in England because she is studying. But I have got a lot of work to do with training and playing matches. I haven’t got any problems with being homesick.”

July 16th 2002: “We’ve got some terrific prospects at Old Trafford,” said Ferguson. “Michael Stewart and Luke Chadwick are doing very well, and John O’Shea’s doing well too. And there’s a young boy who has started now, he’s 16, called Kieran Richardson. He’s going to be a fantastic player.”

September 29th 2002: “John has done fantastically well,” said Ferguson. “I look at him and Rio, think of next season and think to myself – there’s your partnership. I remember saying it right from the first time I saw him, he could read the game superbly. But now he has size, now he has the shoulders. He looks like a centre half now. Last year he was a big beanpole.”

February 27th 2003: “I definitely learned from Paul,” said O’Shea of compatriot McGrath. “He was so relaxed but he completely controlled games. In many ways, it was like Roy Keane did for Ireland. Paul never trained, he just played the games. That’s how good he was. I try to be composed and be a big figure on the pitch and impose myself. That’s what Paul used to do and I try to copy that.”

March 12th 2003: “It has gone well for me,” said O’Shea of playing at full-back. “But I have not really played there since I was 10 or 12 years old. I never believed I would be a full back in the United team, but I am happy to continue if it gets me into the side.”

March 20th 2003: “I have made a breakthrough by playing so many games this season and maybe that will encourage the other young lads,” said O’Shea. “Even though we lost, they gained invaluable experience by playing against Deportivo. You could tell it was new to our boys from the way they were breathing so hard. The pace of the game was something they weren’t used to. It was a world away from playing for the reserves down at Altrincham. It was a big step up for them and the lads with a bit more experience like myself tried our best to help them. I enjoyed the extra responsibility and it’s easy to see the advantages of putting out the team we did. The bonus from playing that game with nothing to lose was that it let the new players trying to break through know what they have to achieve.”

April 4th 2003: “When I was 15, I had all but dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on the dotted line to go to Celtic,” said O’Shea. “But then United came in for me and I changed my mind. Everyone kept asking ‘How are you going to get into that team?’ But I decided the education I could get football-wise at United would do me the world of good and I couldn’t turn down the chance.”

May 4th 2003: “Over the summer I was listening to all the talk of a new central defender coming,” said O’Shea. “I knew it was going to happen and I knew it was going to be someone big. First it was Nesta, then Ayala and, eventually, Rio came. He showed in the World Cup what a great player he is. People were saying to me ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to move?’ But I kept saying ‘No’ and took the attitude that he’s a player who I can learn from. With Laurent Blanc and Rio, I knew it was going to be good for me. It has been a dream season for me. Yet I want to make sure we get something out of it. It has been great for me to look back on but it is even better if you have a medal to prove it. The Premiership is our only target now and we are determined that we won’t throw that away. We know we have a great chance of winning the league. If someone had said to me at the start of the season that I’d have played a part in nearly every game I’d have found it a little bit hard to believe. Now I want a Premiership winner’s medal.”

June 13th 2003: “I’m in talks with United at the moment about a new contract,” said O’Shea. “I’ve played almost 60 games this season and I’ve never done that before, but I’m looking forward to doing it next season. Everyone seems to be quite happy with me. It was Alex Ferguson’s decision to play me in all those games so he must have been happy with me. I’ve played some internationals in the middle of that and I think Brian Kerr was happy so it was a case of being a very satisfying season for me. Normally the manager might give me a game or two followed by a rest but he felt he needed to keep putting me back in. I think I played 12 games last season and I was hoping that if I got around the mid-20s in games the next term I would have been happy because that would have been a good progression, so to quadruple that figure from the season before and to have a championship medal at the end of it all has just been fantastic.”

March 2nd 2004: “My first season went well and my second hasn’t been as good, so it’s natural people will comment on it,” O’Shea conceded. “All I can do is keep my head down, work hard, believe in my own ability and make sure it’s tough for the manager to leave me out. I can’t do anything about the attention. The spotlight has only been on me for a couple of years so I can only imagine what some of the others have had to put up with.”

July 22nd 2004: “I’ve had a few chats with the boy, he knows himself,” Ferguson said. “He’s still only 23, very young for a defender. He has to maybe look at another position. He’s a naturally right-footed player and could play centre midfield, centre back or right back maybe. He’s very versatile, but he’s suffered because of that. But he’s a good type, and you always think with guys of decent character is that they find their way back. He’s got years ahead of him.”

November 29th 2004: “There is no way I am leaving Old Trafford,” O’Shea said. “I am definitely staying, without a doubt, and, fingers crossed, I will be here for a long time to come. When you are playing for Manchester United, you are going to face pressure. I have faced it before, no doubt I will face it again in the future. What you have to do is make sure when you get a chance, you put the manager under pressure not to leave you out.”

December 12th 2004: “When you see the improvement he has made in training, and strength-wise, it is remarkable,” said Ferguson. “For two-and-a-half years we played him all the time in different positions, sometimes with injuries, simply because we had to. Now having given him that break he looks a different player completely. He is fresh and strong and he has been terrific in training.”

February 1st 2005: O’Shea scores that goal at Highbury.

August 7th 2005: “I’m aware of the speculation but I’m very happy here,” said O’Shea. “I’m getting plenty of football and know I can get a lot more. That’s my aim. Old Trafford is the best place to learn your football but that isn’t the reason I am staying. I want to get into the first XI – that’s the most important thing – and I believe I have a future here.”

August 10th 2005: “I am very close to signing a new four-year deal and, fingers crossed, that will be done and dusted before the start of the season,” said O’Shea. “That will take me to around 27 or 28-years-old which people say is around the time you reach your prime. Overall, I am looking forward to spending a lot more time at United and enjoying lots more success.”

Novermber 1st 2005: “He’s just strolling around when he should have been busting a gut to get back,” said Roy Keane.

March 16th 2006: “I just think he needs to be tougher for the big, crunch games,” said Roy Keane. “I saw the highlights of the United and Newcastle game, and I thought he played quite well. If he gets tougher, he can do more than a job there. But you have to bear in mind, he’s still young and he’s still improving. He just needs to get tougher, both physically and mentally.”

July 14th 2006: “I want to play as many games as possible for the club in whatever position that they want,” said O’Shea. “I’ve really enjoyed playing midfield and if the opportunity comes up again I’m more than happy to do it.”

March 5th 2007: “The 90th minute at Anfield, in front of the Kop – Gary Neville’s just told me that is his dream and I’ve just gone and done it!” said O’Shea. “Without a doubt, it’s the most important goal I’ve ever scored. To score a goal in such circumstances in front of the Kop is so special.”

November 18th 2007: “I have this season and the next on my current contract, but I am very close to signing a new deal that will keep me at United into my 30s,” said O’Shea. “It is something I want to do. I want to stay here, everything is good and this is where I want to be. I have never looked to go elsewhere.”

November 27th 2007: “I feel like I am going to be part of something special,” said O’Shea. “Signing the new contract was not a particularly hard decision but it was an important one. I know it is going to be difficult to get into the team and stay there but I also know I will get my chance. I feel that if you look at the club, the team, my age and the age of the squad, there are good times ahead. And I want to be part of it.”

May 27th 2008: “That is crossing my mind a lot of the time, but then I think ‘where do you go when you leave a team like that?'” said O’Shea. “That’s an even bigger question. For the time being, I will stay where I am. You just have to get on with it. The club has so many players and in the build-up to the final, he [Ferguson] had every player fit.”

August 15th 2008: “You could say a game here is worth two elsewhere but it is more than that,” said O’Shea. “I want to challenge myself, both in matches and in training every day and I want to improve my game. That is why I am here. As long as the manager keeps me as part of the team that will do for me. At this club all you have to do is look across at Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and see the way they train. It is such an example they set. Despite the success they have had and the rewards they have received, they still want more and more. It is what the manager prides himself on too. You have to learn from these players and want to be like them. That is what this place is all about.”

March 17th 2009: “The attitude of the players has been marvellous, especially when it comes to the business of being left out,” said Ferguson. “There have been no dummies flying out of the pram. I hate telling a player that, although he has perhaps just delivered a top-class performance, I will not be using him in the next match. It’s not nice, but it helps that the players understand. I feel blessed that we have players like John O’Shea, who has stepped in to play out of his skin. John has thrived on playing regularly and I’m sure that if I asked him to play at centre-forward he would get us a goal. It’s great to have such adaptable players and it’s one of our strengths as we enter the last lap of the title race.”

May 21st 2009: “I would never stay at a club just for the sake of winning a medal,” said O’Shea. “If I felt I wasn’t playing a part I would leave. That has always been the case. I know Roy Keane’s said that 20 games for United is better than 40 anywhere else but I don’t buy into that idea. As a footballer, you want to play as often as you can, no matter what club you are at. You could say I have been rewarded for my patience. But whether you are playing a bit part or a bigger part I was always confident, if I got a run in the team, I could show I could stay in it. I have always had a good relationship with the manager. It is difficult to keep everyone happy but being successful is a key. If you are winning things it makes it slightly easier when you are left out at certain stages. Look at the size of squads at big clubs in Europe now. You can’t win things with 11 players. The teams who will be successful will have between 18 and 22. It’s the man-management side that does it. He makes you feel involved. He might come around and say ‘You are not playing tomorrow but you are playing on Wednesday week and I want you ready for that game’. It is those little things that make him the best in the business.”

October 14th 2009: “I don’t want to look back on my Manchester United career,” said O’Shea. “Fingers crossed there is lots more to come. I knew if I was going to leave United I would have a great grounding. The education was terrific, not only in terms of football, but maturing as a person. But when you look back, I guess everything has worked out okay so far. Long may it continue. I know I am maturing and getting that bit older. I used to think I was quite young. Obviously you know the years are ticking by because of the age of the lads coming into the squad and the amount of games you have played. Overall, it is a good achievement for someone to stay 10 years at a club like Manchester United and to be involved in a lot of games and win some great trophies. Now I just want to continue and be a part of the team.”

April 20th 2010: “Normally, when most teams lose a game it’s not really spoken about but when we lose a game it’s a guaranteed crisis,” said O’Shea. “I remember the first time I won the league back in 2003 the headlines for about a month were ‘The Empire’s Crumbling’. It’s just always been the way – they can’t wait to shoot down the best, and we’ll keep proving them wrong.”

OApril 23rd: 2010: “That’s where the club has been so successful and maintained a structure all the way through, giving the youngsters a chance,” said O’Shea. “Like I’m 28, just about to be 29, and you look at Giggsy and Scholesy – it’s a credit to the club that they keep the consistency going and it’s worked because the team keeps being successful.”

Flashback: Darren ‘Football Genius’ Fletcher