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.