Monthly Archives: November 2014

In praise of Leon Osman

Like everything else, it's for Everton

Like everything else, it’s for Everton

Ten years or so ago, I was picking up tickets on a Friday morning at the Park End of Goodison and a slight, smallish figure, smarty dressed but otherwise completely indistiguishable from any other young man about town, was spotted walking from the car park towards the ground. “All right Ossie” was a shout from one or two of us queuing for our Saturday seats. The man signed a few autographs then went inside. A couple of minutes later, I thought “Ossie? Ah… Leon Osman” then just making his way in the first team. Yes, he’d started as he would (for so long) continue: under the radar.

Fast forward to about 2011 and Ossie was playing well in Moyes’ midfield, as usual shuttling box to box, keeping it simple and finding the odd killer pass and strike, to chip in at the sharp end. He was up from under the radar in the Premier League (he had been picked out on Match of the Day a week or two earlier) so my brother and I were speculating on whether he would get an England call-up. We agreed, citing Moyes’ record against top teams in evidence, that Ossie was a great Evertonian, but a notch below international class, because even in the tiki-taka era, he wasn’t quite skilful enough to compensate for his lack of size and strength up against the Matics and Toures roaming midfields like panzers. Naturally, he made his debut in 2012 and has two full England caps.

That’s what Ossie does. He confounds the sceptics (even those who admire him as a player and a man) by getting on with the job and doing what is asked of him. Six months and a 33rd birthday after he was painfully unable to get into the match at Craven Cottage and substituted in the 77th minute (Everton scored two straight after he was hooked), he was at it again, playing the full 90 against an in-form West Ham, popping up in the box in the 73rd minute to slide in Samuel Eto’o’s superb cross. Three more points with Leon’s name on them.

I was surprised to see him there, the furthest forward, busting a gut to get to where he knew the ball would arrive (Eto’o has taught us that he’s anything but a man picking up easy money to top up his pension – he’s a Blue and would deliver). But I’ve always been surprised by Leon Osman, an Evertonian from his greying hair to his small boots. With 400 appearances notched, he needs 33 more to join Everton’s all-time top ten. When he does, he’ll be a worthy addition to those names. And I won’t be surprised.

On Barkley and Naismith – Everton 0 Swansea 0

My ball!

My ball!

The Barkley-Naismith Problem sounds like one of those mathematical conjectures that attracts a $1M prize that is unclaimed since 1974. Everton’s very own Barkley-Naismith Problem might prove as intractable unless Roberto can find a way of blending these two non-complementary talents. There is no future in having twice as much possession as our opponents and fashioning just three attempts on target as was the case vs an obdurate Swansea, aided by a tolerant referee.

Since Ross Barkley started his season late, he has caught the eye with his dribbling, his prompting and his general busyness in the final third, but it came as something of a surprise that his assist for Samuel Eto’o’s curler into the corner of the Burnley net last week was his first assist in his Premier League career. The long-standing Everton issue of converting pass completions into a killer ball remains, with Leighton Baines still the most likely source of unlocking a drilled defence. Though Barkley is still learning his game, it’s perhaps a tinge disappointing that after what must have been a period of rehabilitation during which he worked with coaches and video analysis, he still knocks the ball off sideways (as often as not) when probing for an opening. The game-changer needs to change games

That might not be so bad – and might be too harsh a criticism for a young player – were it not for Barkley’s impact on Steven Naismith, Everton’s best player in the first half dozen matches of the season. Pushed wide to give the England man a free role “in the hole”, the spaces Naismith nosed out between the lines and the late runs into the box that yielded goals, have become much less frequent (though the Scot’s work ethic has blocked opposition full-backs effectively). Opposition centre-halves must be very pleased to see Naismith so distant from domain.

Can the two men best suited to the attacking midfielder role be accommodated in the same XI? Three shots on target in 90 minutes and a reluctance to cross the ball due to an absence of numbers in the penalty box suggest that they can’t at the moment. And (whisper it) if you had to pick one or the other, wouldn’t it make more sense to pick Steven Naismith? Heresy I know, but Ross Barkley might not be an automatic first choice and rotation may well be the best option regardless of the fixture list’s demands.