John O’Shea is a bit of an enigma for me. His pedigree is undeniable with nearly 400 appearances for the most successful side of this generation and no fewer than 10 major domestic and European winners’ medals. So why is it that, at least in my opinion, he just doesn’t cut it as a Sunderland captain?
Perhaps it’s initially fairly difficult to grasp considering the gulf in quality between us and Manchester United over the last decade or so. O’Shea was Alex Ferguson’s ‘go to guy’. He was the ever reliable if not flashy, versatile defender whose place was assured more through his attitude and application than quality. I can’t imagine there are too many people, Ferguson included, who would consider O’Shea too high up the list of United’s most talented defenders – but talent was never the main ingredient of Fergie’s success.
So O’Shea spent the best part of 10 years in a constant battle to justify his inclusion on the team sheet at United, never the main man yet seldom the scape goat (although I am sure he would have been had they not been so successful). He was never the true leader of any United defence either, although it would be unfair to suggest he was the quiet link baying to every order. Steve Bruce signed him for Sunderland in 2011 and suddenly O’Shea found himself the main man not just as a defender but throughout the squad with only Wes Brown (who followed O’Shea in the same deal) capable of competing with his success and stature. Has he ever lived up to his reputation? Certainly not this season.
If I can just clarify something, I am not suggesting O’Shea is a rubbish player and it would in fact be a brave man to leave him out of our first team given the pool of defenders we have to choose from. Certainly from a statistical point of view there is not a great deal you can moan about. He has managed to complete a whopping 30 clearances this campaign with an unprecedented success rate of 100% as well as an impressive 76% win rate in aerial duels. That’s probably as much positivity as I can drain for what has been a dismal start to O’Shea and Sunderland’s season.
O’Shea strikes me as a Martin O’Neill style defender. A player who thrives when his team is really under the cosh, which was a natural tendency under MON given his tactics, and perhaps the only situations you could really try and argue his captain credentials. His best, and probably only good, performance this season came in a game where we were very much on the back foot away against Southampton.
Where O’Shea is not marshalling a 10 man defence is where his glaring and costly flaws are uncovered. Hesitancy is my biggest concern and it is this which you could argue has already cost us three points this season. His blunder against Crystal Palace and Southampton’s equaliser, which was scored by Jose Fonte whom O’Shea was assigned as marker in Paolo Di Canio’s unsuccessful man marking system. His awareness is completely naïve, for example for Liverpool’s second goal last weekend – albeit a superb goal – his positioning could only have been justified if he had not spotted Luis Suarez, despite glancing behind him twice. In that game against Liverpool, he looked the poorer defender alongside Carlos Cuellar who is often criticised amongst Sunderland fans – me included.
O’Shea seems to struggle to communicate with his teammates for most of a game, unless it’s to whisper instructions to a set-piece taker. Lee Cattermole’s comeback has made this shortfall look much more obvious as Cattermole has immediately resumed his captain-esque role on the pitch leaving O’Shea looking almost like the shy sheep. Unless of course he is talking to the media, he loves a repetitive and monotonous rally call in the papers.
Perhaps I am being harsh given that few of our players can truly warrant any credit for their part in us languishing at the foot of the Premier League table. However, for me, John O’Shea is no captain and the first thing I would do if I were the new manager is hand that accolade back to Catts.
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