Friday, November 9, 2012

Leon Osman called to England NT: Osman makes the journey from underrated to rated

When the England squad dropped on the Football Association's website yesterday, one name immediately jumped off the screen: Jack Wilshere.
Jack's back! Arsenal's saviour (when he's not stupidly getting himself sent off) had returned to bring his messianic ways to the national team one again! Was it a controversial decision? Certainly Arsene Wenger was unamused. Either way, that was definitely the story.
It was only on second glance that another strand to the tale suddenly emerged. Who was that listed as one of the other midfielders? Leon Osman? Yes, it was.
Osman is a player who has conducted his career in the shadows of others so it was rather fitting that the hype around Wilshere took precedence, but for Early Doors the real story was the inclusion of the 31-year-old, who may well have thought international recognition had passed him by.
Prior to yesterday's squad announcement, Osman had been the subject of a philosophical conundrum: how many times can a player be described as 'underrated' before they no longer are? In his case, for most of his career it seems. Though Osman has many admirers, certainly at Everton where he is adored for his ability and character, it has been frequently sung from the rooftops that he is the unsung hero of David Moyes's side.
But now, following Roy Hodgson's recognition, ED is ready to formally announce that Osman can be placed firmly in the 'rated' category, where he joins club-mate Phil Jagielka, who made the transition a couple of years ago.
On the face of things it is a bit of a strange call-up. Osman is 31 so is clearly not a long-term option looking ahead to the World Cup in 2014. Given Wilshere's return, the form of Tom Cleverley and the recent emergence of Jonjo Shelvey it could in fact be argued that England have never needed him less.
But, belatedly, Osman is a trendy player - the way football has evolved in recent seasons has slowly, inexorably bent to his advantage. His pass completion stats would make Xavi nod approvingly while at 5' 8'' he belongs in the pint-sized playmaker club inhabited by the robotic Barcelona passer and his team-mates Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
Had Osman started his career 10 years later he may well have won more international caps. Like Michael Carrick he has been a victim, though a much lower-profile one, of English football's sluggish realisation that at international level possession is more valuable than Hollywood passes, passion, lung-busting runs and aimless but powerful shots from outside the box. Recognition has come too late - it needed English football to catch up with the rest of the class.
ED is not trying to make a case for Osman being England's answer to Iniesta - that would be ridiculous. For one thing, Iniesta has never been on loan at Carlisle United, and he's never played down the same wing as Tony Hibbert.
Yet Osman is indisputably a good player and even the most cynical fan could not begrudge him this moment. Years and years of dedicated service in the Premier League have paid off and if he gets on the pitch against Sweden next week it will be a proud moment for both Osman and Everton.
It may also be a fleeting one, according to the England boss, who underlined yesterday there is plenty of competition in the withdrawn midfield position.
"Leon's been a player I've admired since I came back to Fulham five years ago," said Hodgson. "He's a player who has always done extremely well whenever I've watched Everton.
"Leon is a really good player but he faces stiff competition in the part of the field where he plays. On this occasion we've an opportunity to bring Leon in. We'll be grateful to meet him and work with him for a couple of days to see how he fits in to what we're trying to do at international level."
There is a belief in some quarters that this is in some way a 'pity cap' like the solitary one awarded to Kevin Davies by Fabio Capello. And so what if it is?
There are plenty worse players to have been capped by England in recent years: Francis Jeffers, Anthony Gardner and Gavin McCann spring to mind, while the winning card in this particular game of virtual Top Trumps is clearly Michael Ricketts. His appearance in a friendly against Netherlands in February 2002 was the most humbling moment for the British Isles since the fall of the Empire.
Osman is better than all of these players. While those fans who only stick to their own team's highlights might be a little perplexed this morning by the inclusion of a player you rarely hear much about, Osman's consistently good performances have always spoken volumes about his talent.
If he does play against Sweden it may well prove his only cap, but who cares? Having finally made the transition from underrated to rated, Osman is entitled to enjoy the moment.

@Tom Adams

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