United’s rock

Known for his versatility, John O’Shea has played all across the back for Manchester United, in central midfield and even enjoyed a brief stint in goal against Tottenham in 2007 following Edwin van der Sar’s dismissal, writes Rory Tevlin.

John O’Shea has been an integral part of Manchester United’s first-team squad since his breakthrough season in 2002-2003 but fans have been slow to accept the defender until recently.

O’Shea has figured prominently in the Manchester United defence this season that has swept away previous defensive records, starting in 11 of United’s record 14 consecutive clean sheets in the Barclays English Premier League.

Having been an important member of last season’s double-winning squad, he has made 40 appearances so far as the Manchester club looks set for more glory.

That is something that has not escaped the attention of his manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who recently praised the player, saying: “I feel blessed that we have players like John O’Shea, who has stepped in to play out of his skin. John has thrived on playing regularly and I’m sure that if I asked him to play at centre-forward he would get us a goal.”

O’Shea started his development at Ferrybank FC in his native Waterford in Ireland before United beat several other English clubs for the services of the then 17-year-old.

Following impressive loan spells at lower-league outfit Bournemouth and Belgian side Antwerp he was ready for first-team action, although he was the first to admit he felt a bit intimidated by playing at the highest level.

“I was desperate to make sure I acquitted myself well,” he said. “Make a mistake and it will be talked about all day, miss a sitter and everyone gives you a bad time. I wanted to be noticed, but not too much.”

Despite making over 300 appearances for United since his debut in October 1999 the Irish defender has frequently been the target of frustration for fans of both club and country.

Often plagued in the past by moments of lapsed concentration, his career path has not always been easy. O’Shea burst onto the scene in 2002 with some fine displays of attacking full-back play but found it hard in the coming seasons to reproduce that initial form. Reportedly he was one of the players who drew the infamous ire of international compatriot Roy Keane in an interview with MUTV. Known for his versatility, O’Shea has played all across the back for United, in central midfield and even enjoyed a brief stint in goal against Tottenham in 2007 following Edwin van der Sar’s dismissal.

O’Shea made his Irish debut against Croatia in 2001. Great things were expected of the youngster having been part of the Irish team that captured the Under-16 European Championship in 1998. Things haven’t always gone smoothly for O’Shea at international level, but he now seems to have settled at centre-half forming a strong pairing with Manchester City’s Richard Dunne.

His nomination for Irish Player of the Year would seem to support the view O’Shea has finally found consistency.

Progressing through the ranks at Manchester United has been no easy feat for the Irishman with criticism and hours on the bench a common theme of his time at Old Trafford. However, he has stuck to his dream and established himself as an important member of the squad.

Like many of his team-mates at Manchester United O’Shea tends to keep his personal life under wraps, although he is reported to be dating long-term girlfriend from back home, Yvonne Manning.

O’Shea is in good company at Manchester United driving the same BMW 6 series V8 as clubmate Cristiano Ronaldo. Didier Drogba and David Bentley can also be seen behind the wheel of this popular footballer’s model.

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