John O’Shea looking forward to life in the middle as 15th season beckons
Sunderland and Ireland defender living for the moment
Sunderland’s John O’Shea: “The full-back days definitely seem to be behind me now.”
Kipling would have been a John O’Shea fan. A man’s man, he’s made a career out of keeping his head; shouldered more than his fair share of blame; treated triumph and disaster as equals and never lost that common touch.
In this, his 15th professional season, the 32-year-old will force heart, nerve and sinew to serve him and his club once more. “He is a great professional,” said Alex Ferguson after the Waterford man scored the winner against Arsenal in the first leg of their 2009 Champions League semi-final. “The boy never complains. He is happy to play anywhere. He has not always been a number one choice but he produces 30 performances a season.”
Giovanni Trapattoni, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and Paolo Di Canio have all said the same. “I didn’t have any doubt about him,” Di Canio said in May, after a turbulent season in which the new Sunderland manager publicly proclaimed doubt about practically everyone and everything. “He’s positive and intelligent.”
O’Shea was a powerful ally for a man underfire and the Italian can rely on him again ahead of his first full season in charge.
O’Shea sees a side to Di Canio not many others do. “He wants to improve himself, as well, he speaks about it quite a bit,” says the Ireland international. “He wants his team to come along with him and to match his ambition.
“He wants everyone to do better as a group and collectively and he includes himself in that.”
There are similarities with Trapattoni, “the small details”, O’Shea chuckles, though the Italians had their differences. Di Canio pushed his Juventus manager to the ground with a few choice words in 1993.
“I didn’t know,” O’Shea pauses momentarily, “you’re telling me he pushed him over?”
Few can wind people up like Trap and even fewer lose the plot like Di Canio. The disbelief soon dissipates. “These things happen,” laughs O’Shea. “He is that type of character.”
That type of character, or not, O’Shea’s got his back. Why wouldn’t he? He’s in the team, taking on new ideas, preparing to play it out from centreback on the manager’s orders, having settled fully since his move from the flank prior to Euro 2012, where he and Ireland might have benefited from a similar shift under Trapattoni.
Versatility, a worn out tool, is no longer his forte. “The full-back days definitely seem to be behind me now,” he admits. “The odd day in training I have to do different things, when the manager is doing different things with the shape, I have to fill in. I know I can obviously still do a job there but I definitely much prefer it in the middle.”
He can’t guarantee it, though he feels fairly sure, that Ireland team-mate Keiren Westwood will be the voice behind him in goal this season, following Simon Mignolet’s departure for Anfield, but James McClean’s future is less certain after the arrival of Italian international Manu Giaccherini. “It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks for James because he’ll obviously be speaking to the manager in terms of what future he sees for him at Sunderland. Is he going to be part of the squad that’s needed?”
Poland was miserable and the new arrivals were then “shell-shocked” by October’s 6-1 defeat to Germany, but “if you can’t improve yourself from major disappointments you are in the wrong game”, he says, and collectively they have done that.
The friendly against Wales in Cardiff this day week will be “important” for the younger players ahead of a September double-header against Sweden (home) and Austria (away). With all three level on 11 points, O’Shea knows four from those two games would be a triumph, before wrapping up the group away to Germany and at home to Kazakhstan in October.
If he features in all five Irish games between now and 2014, he will be on 94 caps. Giddily close to that rare century?
Alas, O’Shea has no time for ifs.
“It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if I did or I didn’t . . . you live for the moment, as they say.”