Mr. John O’Shea: The Swiss Army Knife of Soccer

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John O’Shea could be the most unorthodox, uncoordinated, and least athletic footballer at Manchester United and in the world of professional soccer. And despite all of this, he scores goals and plays a key role on one of the biggest clubs in all of soccer.

In some ways, he’s sort of like the Homer Simpson of soccer: going about his business and many times seeming to bumble things, yet in the end he succeeds. He’s much like Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame – where the dog does most of the work but he ends up taking the credit. Somehow, the ball goes in the net for him, the pass makes it through the gap, he wins the header, he nutmegs Figo, and so on.

Moreover though, he’s the Swiss army knife of soccer, a resourceful tool for Alex Ferguson. He’s like a poor man’s superhero. He’s like the Hancock of football. An extreme version of a utility player – so vast is his unorthodox usefulness – he’s an everyman hero who has stumbled onto the Theatre of Dreams. What position hasn’t he played? He’s played at left-back, right-back, center back, central midfield, forward, and even keeper.

Do you remember when he chipped the Arsenal keeper Almunia? Do you remember when he scored the game winner against Liverpool to secure the league title?

O’Shea Game Winner

At just 27 years of age, John O’Shea is in the prime of his life in terms of soccer. He’s already won three English Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy this past year even though he didn’t get on the pitch as he of course would have liked:

He said: “Obviously, it would have been great to get on the pitch in the final, but to play your part in a Premier League-winning team and helping when needed in Europe is something I will be very proud of.

“I was very close to getting on the pitch. With a minute to go, the manager shouted at me to get ready. He was going to bring me on for Wes [Brown].

“But I think somebody had a word in his ear and Anderson went on instead.

“I am trying to find out who that person is – and I am narrowing it down.”

O’Shea isn’t necessarily overweight, he’s not portly or chubby like Homer Simpson, but for some reason he comes across that way when he’s playing football. He spins and turns and you think he’s going to lose the ball but rarely does. He serves in good crosses and passes the ball well, yet all as though it’s the first time he’s done it or he himself is surprised the ball has arrived at its intended target. He’s not smooth let’s say. Giggs has grace and O’Shea is all knees and elbows.

O’Shea Nutmegs Luis Figo

Perhaps it’s just his less than silky ways stands out amongst all the quality players at Manchester United. If he was on any other team he might just be the maestro. That may be a reach, but he’s certainly a guy you want on your team.

Although at times it’s like O’Shea used to work in the concession stands and all of a sudden was anointed with an ability to play football by Alex Ferguson, and Ferguson could stop the magic any time he wants. It is amazing that O’Shea is able to play for Ireland all on his own – like a puppet with no strings or ventriloquist gone missing – no strings, no voice.

In reality though, O’Shea is probably the epitome of a soccer player who earns his luck with hard work. He’s first to the ball as a defender and slips in clever passes and plays smart one twos. He has said in the past that he’s pondered leaving Manchester United, and a number of clubs have expressed interest, but he doesn’t think he could find a better club to play for. The Irishman signed a contract in November 2007 that will keep him at the club until 2012.

As an unorthodox superhero, O’Shea’s true power lies in his selflessness. He is just what Manchester United needs. They don’t need another player to run at people. They have Cristiano, Tevez, and Rooney to do that. It’s this selflessness that’s his best and most endearing quality to the team.

With the number of games that Manchester United plays each year, and with the inevitable injuries during the long season, he’s called upon plenty of times, whether that’s in the back, middle, upfront or in goal. Cheers to John O’Shea.

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