A few months in to the season, after Rafael da Silva started playing regularly at right back, I was frustrated that the manager had started John O’Shea there for so much of the season. Rafael was great going forward and tenacious in defence, whilst O’Shea just seemed to bumble along, doing his job.
That’s the thing with O’Shea, the player who was once tipped to reach great heights, who once said he was unprepared to have his position chopped and changed, and who once nutmegged Luis Figo, he never fulfilled the potential we thought he had, but he always did a job.
He isn’t first choice in any of the positions but he’s reliable enough in all of them. I’d rather not see him in the midfield and we have better players than him at full-back, yet when we have an injury or need to rotate to rest our players, he’s a great stand in.
He’s experienced and has played in massive games, whether that be against our fiercest rivals, in European Cup semi-finals or cup finals. There’s no occasion that could overwhelm him and that wealth of experience can’t be bought. Looking at the current squad, only Ryan Giggs has more appearances for United than him.
O’Shea has been at United his whole life and knows as well as any the “United way”. After losing the presence of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Wes Brown in the dressing room, I don’t think it would be wise to lose another one. Whilst I can’t imagine that O’Shea is the most authoritative member of the team, he sets an example like any of our old boys do and I don’t think that can be underestimated. Whilst Sir Alex Ferguson is an obvious constant in our recent glory years, we shouldn’t overlook the fact we’ve always had homegrown talent in the team too. We’ve got young players coming through but they’re not there yet. It’s important to have players like O’Shea around.
Finally, it’s hard to avoid the sentimentality in keeping O’Shea at the club. I won’t pretend that I don’t feel attached to the Irishman for irrational feelings about his attitude towards the club and the length of time he’s spent here. Sir Alex recently said it was hard to avoid sentimentality with his players and that he had struggled to tell Nicky Butt and Phil Neville it was time for them to move on. Whilst not wanting to criticise O’Shea, I believe those two players had bigger aspirations than him. They both went on to captain the clubs they left for and put first team football ahead being a United player. That is fair enough. But in the last five years, I’ve never got that impression of John’s priorities. He has been our utility man, played when needed, where needed, and seems happy to do so.
For United to accept the offer for him will obviously have made him think though. Why that offer from Sunderland was accepted is still beyond me though. Our available full-backs are Evra, Rafael and Fabio, with the latter two struggling to ever play 90 minutes. Jonny Evans plays at left back for his country and did a good job in that position against Chelsea last year, but that defensive role is not usually required from a United full back. O’Shea is far superior to Evans in that respect. There is also the possibility of Smalling playing at full-back and he does enjoy to get forward, but again, he’s not as skilled as O’Shea in this position and I wonder what the merits are of watering down his natural ability in the centre of the park.
So, with the pitiful amount of money that was accepted for Gibson, Brown and O’Shea from Sunderland, a total of £12m, will the club be planning on buying another full-back? That would certainly soften the blow of losing O’Shea and at least make more sense of the decision to sell him, but it still wouldn’t justify it for me and honestly, I can’t see us spending cash on a full-back when it’s looking like we’ve still yet to splash out top dollar for a world class central midfielder. If we were to spend, would we find an experienced full-back for a few million quid who was happy to play if and when? It’s unlikely.
Both Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce have said a deal for O’Shea is close though, so this was probably written in vain, but I will be genuinely gutted to see John wearing another club’s shirt and hope there’s a last minute spanner in the works.