Future bright for upbeat O'Shea
If John O'Shea considered himself a victim of his own versatility, he would not be the first. Many of the game's great 'utility men' have come to curse that rare and precious ability to adapt and excel in numerous positions, believing with some justification that it caused them to lead a nomadic on-field existence, dismissed by critics as a 'jack of all trades, master of none'.
Yet, while it might be of legitimate concern to Manchester United's Irish internationalist that, at 25, he has still to nail down a settled position in which to perfect his trade, O'Shea is evidently a man for whom the glass is always half-full. And why shouldn't he accentuate the positive? After all, only last week he celebrated making his 200th appearance for United, a landmark achievement all the more laudable when one considers the plethora of high-profile, seasoned internationalists who've left Old Trafford having come, saw, but spectacularly fail to conquer.
"If I only played the one position, there's no way I'd have managed that number of games," O'Shea observes sagely, and it's this same candid common sense he applies when offering the frank and gracious acknowledgement that Chelsea "fully deserve" to be celebrating their second successive Premier League title. Nevertheless, while United remain, for the moment at least, firmly in the Londoners' formidable shadow, and Ireland are preparing to peer in from the outside on this summer's FIFA World Cup™, the affable Waterford lad explained to FIFA.com why he has plenty to look forward to.
FIFA.com: Without wanting to start on a depressing note, can you tell us what went wrong in United's 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, particularly given how well you had been playing prior to that game?
John O'Shea: Honestly, I wish I could put my finger on it. We were as surprised and disappointed as anyone. Losing an early goal didn't help, that's for sure, and it was a sloppy one too. It meant we had to come out, attack them and take some risks in the process, and against a good side like Chelsea you always know there's a chance that you'll be picked off on the counter-attack in that situation.
But all credit to the Chelsea lads. They've been unbelievably consistent over the past couple of seasons and fully deserve their back-to-back titles. That said, I don't think for one second that the scoreline at Stamford Bridge or the points difference at the top of the table is an accurate reflection of how far apart the two teams are at this stage. I certainly think we all feel confident at United that it will be a different story next season.
Your manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has said that it's Chelsea's consistency at home that has been the difference between them and the chasing pack over the past couple of seasons. Would you go along with that?
I think that's spot on. Every good side tends to build from the basis of a good home record and, if you look at Chelsea this season, I think they've won something like 18 games at home, drawn one and lost none. Our own record isn't bad by any means - we've only lost once at Old Trafford this season - but the few games that we have drawn (prior to the weekend, United had drawn five times at home during season 2005/06) have definitely cost us dearly in terms of catching them up.
We're not doing a lot wrong, but you always know at the top level that things are decided by the smallest of margins and we certainly realise that, going forward, we need to improve and be a bit more ruthless at times. But we're not far off, and a couple of results don't change the fact that we're definitely moving in the right direction.
You recently made your 200th appearance for United (in the 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough on 1 May) and, given that you only turned 25 the day before, that's an achievement you must be immensely proud of?
Definitely. I would never have guessed I was even getting close to that if someone hadn't told me, but it's fantastic; something I'm really proud of. It's such a great feeling to run out at Old Trafford every second week, it really is, and to think I've pulled on that shirt on 200 occasions now, it makes me feel very humble. A lot of excellent players haven't managed anywhere near that number of games for this club and, first and foremost, I've been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity.
You've played in almost every defensive and midfield role for United, but do you ever worry that your versatility counts against you?
Sometimes, but then if I only played the one position, there's no way I'd have managed the number of games I have. That's the flip side to that coin. Ideally, there's no doubt I'd love to play week in, week out in the same position so I could settle into a set role and perform to my best there, but as I've said, it's an honour just to be playing for a club like this and I'd never complain wherever the manager put me.
Ok, so if you were the Manchester United manager, where would you play John O'Shea?
(Laughs) Good question! Is that just a clever way of asking me what my favourite position is? Well, I don't think it'll be a big surprise to hear that I'd like a run in central midfield. I really enjoy that position and think I've shown this season that I'm more than capable of playing it, and also of doing well there.
The manager had spoken to me about it pre-season and I've always said that I'd like a chance to show what I could do in there. Hopefully what I've done this season has been enough to earn me a longer run and, if I can start next season in that role, I'd like to think that whoever I'm up against will find it difficult to get the position off me.
How about Sir Alex Ferguson? Has he changed at all during your time working under him, and does he treat you any differently now that you're one of the team's more experienced players?
I'd say the answer to both those questions is 'no'. His passion, his determination, that's still there and, if you're being honest, I don't think that will ever change - nor would you want it to. As for whether he treats me any different, again I'd say no. He has so much experience now and he knows how to get the best of each and every player, particularly the younger lads.
It's that old thing about knowing when to give someone a kick up the backside and when to throw an arm around them. He tends to always get that right and it's that skill that's probably gone a long way to making one of the most successful managers in the game.
FIFA.com spoke to Gary Neville recently and he was telling us how exciting it is to play and train with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo because they approach football without any fear whatsoever. Do you find it just as invigorating?
Invigorating? Frightening more like! You don't want to be against them in the five-a-sides, that's for sure! No, they're both fantastic talents and I'm sure they'll be among the best players in the world for many years to come. Gary's right. They're completely fearless, they just want the ball all the time, and that's the kind of player anyone would want to play alongside.
You must feel a great deal of sympathy for Rooney given that everything appeared to be building up for him having a great FIFA World Cup™, and now this metatarsal injury means he'll be lucky to feature at all?
Yeah, he might have to keep me company now! To be honest, when Wayne picked up the injury, my first thought was how much United would miss him for the last few games of the season. But then you remember that the World Cup is just round the corner and, on a personal level, I'd be gutted for him if this one passes him by because I'm sure he would have made a massive impact.
That said, he's still got a chance of making it and playing at some stage and, even if he doesn't, there's no doubt he's a young lad with loads more major tournaments in front of him.
You're obviously missing out on the FIFA World Cup yourself because of Ireland's failure to qualify, but is there a confidence among the Irish players that better times are ahead under Steve Staunton and Bobby Robson?
Absolutely. We're all really disappointed not to be going to the World Cup and, for me, it's torture listening to the lads in the United dressing room talking about when they're meeting up to leave for Germany. But the atmosphere among the Irish boys has been great since 'Stan' (Staunton) took over, and we were all buzzing after the Sweden game.
Ok, so it was in Dublin, which is a massive advantage for us, but to beat a good team who'll be playing at the World Cup, and do it so convincingly, obviously gave everyone a massive boost. It was a great start for the new coaching staff and we've a couple more friendlies against Chile (24 May) and the Netherlands (16 August), both of which will be good, hard games. That'll be ideal preparation for the European Championships qualifiers because, as everyone knows, we've a pretty tough first game away to Germany (on 2 September) and it's important that we get off to the best possible start.
Finally, United fans still talk about your famous nutmeg on Luis Figo (in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final in 2003). How did Luis react to that, and what were your feelings immediately after it came off?
(Laughs) He wasn't best pleased! But it's fair to say I didn't lose any sleep over it. Think how many defenders he's done that to, after all. I was only giving him a taste of his own medicine. I'll be honest, though, at the time it was really just a means to an end. I wasn't trying to be fancy or make him look silly. It was just the best way to get the ball past him, and I took my chance.