John O'Shea: The Man Who Played Everywhere

Updated on March 27, 2020
MartialLaw profile image

20 Times. Avid United fan through the hard times and the good. Still believes Wes Brown is the real hero of Old Trafford.

John O'Shea has played nearly every position on the field, including goalkeeper.
John O'Shea has played nearly every position on the field, including goalkeeper. | Source

As a Goalkeeper: A Rare 100% Clean Sheet Record

It's always a sight to get all four corners of a football ground laughing with anticipation. A goalkeeper picks up an injury and the team is all out of substitutions, meaning some unlucky soul has to don the gloves and step into the goal. That was exactly the situation Manchester United found themselves in when playing at White Hart Lane in 2007.

Having made all three available substitutions over the course of the match, when regular goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar had to come off for United, people were looking around to see which unlucky player was going to be given the gloves for the final 10 minutes or so. At first it looked as though Rio Ferdinand was the name being drawn out of the hat, going as far as to even try the goalkeeper shirt on for size.

However, John O'Shea wasn't the kind of player to shy away from an opportunity like this. Having only come onto the pitch a few minutes before Van der Sar's injury, he scooped up the kit and gloves and strolled over to the goaline.

What followed was one of the most complete and controlled displays anyone has ever witnessed in the world of football. O'Shea's catching, distribution and a famous 1-on-1 save have gone down in the United cult legend books, and he remains one of the few 'goalkeepers' in the world who can boast a 100% clean sheet record as United ran out 4-0 winners.

In a tough season for Spurs under Martin Jol, John O'Shea, nicknamed 'Ireland's no.1' after the game, was on hand to deliver a new level of lows for the boys from North London.

O'Shea stepping in as full back.
O'Shea stepping in as full back. | Source

As a Fullback: O'Shea Is Comfortable On Either Side of the Field

Quote on quote his 'natural' position, this is the area most United fans probably expected to see John O'Shea when he stepped out onto the football pitch. A true Irishman in many respects, it wasn't necessarily about looking good or delivering the tricks for O'Shea, just ensuring the tasks set out for him were done as best as he could do.

Despite what John O'Shea might say about jet lag and such, he is a big reason as to why Manchester United were able to sniff out the talent of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo before anyone else. Playing right back in a now infamous game against Ronaldo's Sporting Lisbon side, the Irishman was absolutely decimated by the speed, skill and trickery possessed by the Portuguese hotshot.

Even though it was only a friendly game, Ronaldo's running of O'Shea led manager Sir Alex Ferguson to shout out to O'Shea: "Any chance of getting a bit closer to him, John?"

Even though the deal for Cristiano Ronaldo had pretty much been agreed by this point, his performance against O'Shea was enough for Sir Alex Ferguson to take hold of the deal and get it over the line as quickly as possible.

After his ordeal against Ronaldo, O'Shea was on the end of plenty of jokes and keenly reminded of his torrid time from the likes of Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand in the side. According to O'Shea, his first words to Ronaldo were: "You owe me one for getting your deal over the line."

O'Shea playing as central defender
O'Shea playing as central defender | Source

As Central Defender: No Ferdinand? No Problem.

O'Shea's unique versatility was arguably most shown in his ability to slot into the various backlines Manchester United had built over his decade or so at the club. From Stam to Vidic, there were some absolute giants in Manchester with O'Shea, which meant he never was, nor expected to be, a first choice defender.

Instead, his best moments would come when called upon in the most trying of times. When Rio Ferdinand failed a drugs test in 2004 for instance, it was John O'Shea Sir Alex Ferguson called upon.

Throughout Sir Alex's glorious time at the helm of Manchester United, there have been certain players that he has called upon when his team is in a rut. The likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ji Sung Park and Wes Brown were all in Sir Alex's ranks for a long time, perhaps not regularly starting but always featuring when the cause was most desperate.

This can almost certainly be applied to John O'Shea and his time in the centre of defence. He knew he was never getting past the likes of Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic, but he understood that didn't mean he couldn't be useful. Ten major honours across his Manchester United career certainly seems to indicate that understanding anyway.

O'Shea makes an excellent midfielder as well!
O'Shea makes an excellent midfielder as well! | Source

As a Midfielder: The Midfield Maestro

When called into action in the heart of the middle, John O'Shea would normally found in the deep lying role, hoovering up tackles in the middle of the park and protecting his backline. It was a great strategy used by Sir Alex Ferguson to ensure his team's defensive solidity and see home any crucial wins.

In 2005, O'Shea was reportedly one of the targets of Roy Keane's infamous rant to MUTV as he bemoaned the club's supposed decline. O'Shea's form had come into question over the previous season or so, with some fans bemoaning his lacklustre performances as they slipped further and further behind Mourinho's Chelsea side.

Sir Alex, however, stuck by his squad and once again showcased just how much bigger a team is than an individual. Just like with Beckham and Van Nistelrooy around this time, Roy Keane was soon out the door and O'Shea would continue to prove his worth to Ferguson and United.

O'Shea can both score and defend goals.
O'Shea can both score and defend goals. | Source

As an Attacker: The Unexpected Goal Threat

Nutmegging Ballon D'Or winner and all round legend Luis Figo and pulling off the most audacious chipped goal at Highbury are just two of the infamous moments that can be put with John O'Shea's time in front of goal.

United fans must have thought they had seen it all when yet another injury crisis left Sir Alex Ferguson calling upon John O'Shea to lead the line for them in the 07/08 season. This was after all a team that contained the famous trio of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, as well as attacking talents such as Nani, Anderson and Ryan Giggs.

Playing up front in 2007/08 now meant that John O'Shea had played in every single position for Manchester United.

Despite being a defender at heart, O'Shea's natural instinct in front of goal led to some crucial moments in United's hunt for silverware. Important moments against Everton at Merseyside and the infamous last minute goal at Anfield against Liverpool would go a long way in shaping United's successes in the late 2000s, proving Sir Alex Ferguson right again.

John O'Shea was far from United's greatest ever players. In fact, it's so rare to see someone amass over 350 appearances over twelve years and not come close to that team's greatest ever eleven. But that is what made O'Shea so invaluable to the team - he was always more than happy to step into anyone's shoes across the park and do what he could for the side as a collective.


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    • MartialLaw profile imageAUTHOR

      James Metcalfe 

      11 months ago from Worthing

      Completely agree, as we mentioned in the article, individuals like O'Shea, Wes Brown and Park Ji Sung were just as important to Sir Alex as his star players. It's the big reason why they all stayed at the club for so long.

      Dependable players like O'Shea, I think, are a big missing link in the current United team right now.

    • Hacicu Bogdan profile image

      Hacicu Bogdan 

      11 months ago from Cluj-Napoca, Romania

      Every team needs a player like O'Shea that can cover different positions when asked to and do it really well, sometimes just like the actual starting player or even better.


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