O'Shea comes of age
SIR Alex Ferguson doesn't go a bundle on public individual praise. Neither does the United boss make a habit of telling the media a week ahead of a major final that a certain player is guaranteed a place in his XI. So when Fergie grants you a Champions League final place seven days before the Rome spectacular, eulogizes about you twice in a few months and then makes you the Reds captain on the opening day of the season then you have to be a bit special. All that and they still call John O'Shea an `unsung hero'. Hardly unsung anymore! But the 28-year-old's head won't be turned by the tributes. He has learned that you won't get anywhere at Old Trafford if you think you've made it. Last term, he was among an elite group of players including Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra who started more than 40 of the Reds record 66 games in the campaign. It was in sharp contrast to the previous term when he started just 16 senior matches and wasn't on Fergie's XI for any of the big European Cup knockout matches. "I think last season was probably significant for me with the way it all panned out and the amount of games I played and how well it all went," John told MEN Sport. "The key for me personally last season was the amount of games I played. I was able to get a consistency in my game and that gave me confidence. "With the team winning games as well everything was rolling into one and working for me. "The Champions League was disappointing obviously but overall it was a pleasing season. My first season was special for me but I have to say that progress wise and consistency wise last season was my best. Finished "But as good and as satisfying as it was I knew that once it was finished that was it. It was all done and dusted and all soon forgotten about. "When we got back to pre-season again I knew it was an incredible challenge once more. Gary Neville and Wes Brown are fit again and there are a lot of young players coming through who are fresh and hungry. "Whatever I did last season didn't really count. That is the key to the success at United. That is what the manager always tells us. "It is hard to get that mentality of forgetting about last season. "But the manager always makes you realise that the challenges are going to get harder so you cannot afford to rest. "Going for the league title for a fourth year running is going to be hard and special. We have to up our standards again. It is a huge test. "It is very pleasing to hear the things the manager has been saying about me and it was great to read before the European Cup final that I would be playing. "But it is up to me now to put in improved performances and justify the trust he is putting in me. "You would be foolish to think that because of the plaudits you are untouchable. The club has to keep moving forward and if you don't move forward with it you get left behind. "I am happy to be in the squad at a special place and that is what keeps me going." O'Shea cemented the right-back role for the Reds in the absence of Brown, Neville and Rafael with injuries late in the term and played that role against Barcelona in Italy. But for last Sunday's opener against Birmingham City he was in the centre of defence again covering for injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. "People still ask me what my favourite position is and I cannot really answer that any more to be honest!" John adds. "It is not a case of having to accept that I am Mr Versatile, I just know I am that player. The manager knows it. I would like to think if I play well in a certain position that I might be in that position the next game and that is the way I will still keep looking at it. "I thought nailing down one position after my full debut season in 2002-03 was going to be key for me. But as time has gone on you start to wonder if you would have played as many games as I have for United if I had not been adaptable." Phil Neville used to wear the utility tag for United but when he reached the age of 28 he decided enough was enough and a permanent role elsewhere would guarantee him more matches. Now O'Shea has reached 28 and wearing Neville's old label, might the same D-Day arrive for him? "There have definitely been thoughts in the past about moving on to get a permanent place," admits John. Happy "But when the manager tells you that you are going to play a part that has always been enough for me and kept me happy. "Phil Neville has been hugely successful. He is now the club captain of a very good club and playing regularly so it is definitely something that down the line who knows. "But for the time being I am not thinking about that. It is a huge challenge for me here at a very, very big club and I am enjoying it. "If you look at the playing stats of every player here at United now there is not a lot of difference between them. We are all getting a fair number of games and doing our bit. Even if you were thinking about moving on to another club to become a regular you are not guaranteed that anywhere else either. It is a squad game everywhere in the Premier League these days. "You look at players who didn't make the first team around the country last weekend and the quality of the players who were on the benches it was incredible. So you think to yourself are you going to get in the XI anywhere else anyway! "I am at the best club for myself. I know that." O'Shea, who is set to be skipper again tonight at Turf Moor, was in United's team the last time the Reds played at Burnley in December 2002 in the League Cup. "The atmosphere was great that night. Really good. They don't seem to like us!" he says. "We will have to be on our guard but we know if we put ourselves in the right position this season then pressure wise we will be able to cope with things. The lads have been through it all before."
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