Category Archives: Osman

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.

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Rickie and Ossie and the players we love to love 9 August 2013

Soccer - The Times FA Youth Cup - Semi Final Second Leg - Everton v West Ham UnitedNews of Rickie Lambert’s elevation to the England squad raised a smile. The “Litherland Lionel” may be a Red, but he talks like me (having gown up in the same place) and he fits the template for players from other clubs that we respect and like to see doing well. So what is the template?

Such players cannot, of course, play for a Champions League club – we may respect the likes of Juan Mata, but they play for our rivals and their success merely fuels the sense of entitlement their clubs project. So we’re mining amongst the middle and lower ranking clubs.

Next we’re looking for a player who doesn’t look like the next Ronaldo. They’re usually a bit slow, often having to think about their game to succeed with just enough left of the kid in the park for us to recognise. When interviewed, they tend to convey an element of “Gee, fancy me being here” humility – just like we would.

Finally, some form of struggle (over injury or early rejection or fan / media scepticism) to promote a backstory of redemption, is the final piece of the jigsaw. Such redemption can take many forms – often a late blooming, but sometimes just continued excellence and loyalty to one club or one style of play. They are anti-Suarezes, who never appeared as teenagers at half-time signing apprentice forms with a beaming manager.

If The Litherland Lionel surprised everyone with his perceptive passing, running and finishing, to make the cut of those we love to love, who else is in this selection?

Though not quite four-square with the template, Matthew Le Tissier’s touching devotion to one middling club, his exquisite skills and less than dedicated approach to physical conditioning, gets him in (alongside his equivalent these days, Dimitar Berbatov). Grinning and gurning, in the midfield, we find Jimmy Bullard, whose Indian summer brought late international honours. Swansea’s Leon Britton, tapping out the passes in the middle of the park in all four divisions, earns a place too.

And what of our lads? Arguably (and I hope this screen isn’t too rose-tinted) we might have four candidates. Phil Jagielka did his time in lower divisions, playing wherever managers demanded, before becoming an England centre-half. Sylvan Distin, a cool, intelligent man off the field, has been as consistent as any defender over the last five years, playing hard but fair. You can’t talk to fans of other clubs for long before they confess admiration for Leighton Baines, contrasting his personality with his rival for the England left-back slot.

But the man who fits the template perfectly, is the Chorley Iniesta, good old Ossie. He’ll never be an Everton Great, for the pantheon is populated by only the very best in history, but what a career he’s had. He deserves, and I suspect he gets, the admiration of football fans everywhere – something he should enjoy, as he starts yet another season on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey.