John O'Shea vs LiverpoolJohn O’Shea signed a contract extension today which will see him at the club until 2012. He has been on the receiving end of a lot of stick over the past few seasons from United fans and rivals alike. The player who can play in a number of positions, who masters none of them, is mocked all too frequently for my liking. Aside from the fact he has the best chant to come out of Old Trafford in recent years (!), I think the lad is a decent player, with his heart in the right place, and he gets a job done for us.

He emerged as a bright talent for United, a hot prospect, and he got everyone talking when he nutmegged Figo back in 2003. Who is this lad with the balls to even attempt such a thing, let alone pull it off, in the Champions League, in front of a roaring Old Trafford crowd? He must have big things ahead of him.

O’Shea broke through in to the first team at a most unfortunate time. With all of Fergie’s “kids”, Beckham, Nevilles, Scholes, Butt, all still in the team, there was a lot of pressure on him to go on to be World class. Expectation from our youth team products were high. John couldn’t meet them. So because he wasn’t of the class of players like Beckham and Scholes, he has been deemed a failure, which I think is entirely harsh.

O’Shea came from a less successful crop of youngsters, including Ronnie Wallwork (who is on loan at Huddersfield from WBA), Luke Chadwick (who now plays for Norwich) and Danny Higginbotham (who is now at Sunderland). After a few appearances here and there in the League Cup, O’Shea’s big season was 2002-2003, when he was introduced to the team earlier than Ferguson would have liked, but due to injuries, O’Shea had opportunity to play in all positions across the back four. He showed silky skills, fancy footwork, and was an asset going down the wing.

It has appeared to be a slow decline since then, peaking far too early, and never meeting the great heights we’d hoped for. It became apparent that he was not going to cut it as the future Keano replacement, and wasn’t going to hold down a first XI place in our team. But does this make him rubbish?

How much would a player of O’Shea’s ability be bought for? £6-8 mill? John O’Shea would make any Premiership team’s first 16, at least, and he cost us nothing. Is he the greatest player ever? No. Did he fulfil his potential? Again, no, but top teams have squad players as good as/worse than JoS, who cost them millions. He is a handy player to have in the squad due to his versatility and eagerness just to get on the pitch, wherever he has to play (even if in goal, eh Robbie Keane?).

Looking at his career stats, since breaking in to the first team squad, O’Shea has averaged well over 40 appearances a season for United. When United won the league in 2003, he played for us 52 times in all competitions (3 League Cup appearances, before that is cited as a large contributor to his match time). When United won the league in 2007, he racked up 51 appearances (in a season where the central midfield role was fulfilled by Scholes and Carrick, and his other position, left back, was taken by Evra and Heinze). Someone give me the name of rubbish players who have played over 50 times in seasons in a Premiership winning year. It just isn’t done. That kind of dead weight in the team could not contribute to a team crowned the best in England.

He is not the most gifted of players, but what he lacks in skill, he makes up for in his passion and his ability to “be there”. Let’s not forget the crucial goals he scored at Anfield and Goodison Park last season. He got us a win against Liverpool and started the comeback against Everton on the day that felt like we’d got the title wrapped up. Those games, along with our away trip to Fulham, could be listed as our most important games of 2006-2007, or if you’d prefer, pivotal games. (He also had the best strike rate in the Premiership last season, four goals from five attempts. 80% shooting accuracy ain’t half bad! 😉 )

In our game against Dynamo Kiev this season, he was due to replace Scholes in midfield, but due to a late on Evra injury, was shifted to left back at the last minute. “It’s always going to be like that for me,” O’Shea said. “I was due to start the game in midfield but played most of it at left-back and then finished in midfield. I just enjoy being in the team.”

Whilst rival fans may mock him, all of them would be too embarrassed to admit they wish they had a player like him in the squad, who will play anywhere, any time, not getting in strops when he’s not picked, and is just happy to represent the club he plays for. He won’t ever be first choice, he knows this, but is more than happy to wait for his chance, coming on off the bench in most games to give another player a rest, or add something different to our flow.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I will have slated O’Shea as much as any red in recent years, particularly when we’re not winning and he has one of his “moments”, but there is something so endearing about the guy, who pulls out a performance for the team just when we need it the most. He is the kind of squad player money cannot buy, because there is no sum of money who could pay for a player who is as able as John, who is as willing to sit on the bench, as eager to play any number of minutes he can, and do it all with a smile on his face.

“I am extending my contract with the champions,” he said today. “I have been at the club since the age of 17 and it is a dream come true to play for such a great club. I hope to play my part in bringing more trophies here and to continuing the success with this young, exciting team. I would like to thank the boss, the staff and the fans for their continued support.”

Three more years on his contract, brilliant news for us reds!