I am a huge Leon Osman fan. I felt almost a sense of pride when he finally received his England call-up last month; the midfielder had become somewhat a cult hero of mine.
Hard working, dedicated, smart, and talented – but his efforts often went unnoticed by those who weren’t Goodison Park regulars (not that I’m an Everton fan).
Following news that Osman was in Roy Hodgson’s squad for the friendly against Sweden, Twitter filled with compliments from various footballers and pundits, and football geeks like myself up and down the country were calling their football geek friends saying things down the phone like “he’s done it, I told you, Osman’s coming home!” while trying not to choke on the tears of joy.
For a few days, there was Osman pandemonium. Articles such as “Osman never gave up his England dream” and the more humorous “Leon Osman had to convince his son England call-up was not a joke”, were on every sports website, and the midfielder’s press conference was on a loop on Sky Sports News.
But really, what is the point of finally ‘rewarding’ a player with an international cap, when he is 31-years-old? It’s like when the queen gives a knighthood for contribution to something, except there’s no medal to sell to the pawnshop. “And for long-standing contribution to Premier League football, with some excellent goals, Leon Osman – you can play for England… Once.”
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Of course I’m glad to finally see one of my favourite players in an England shirt, but this should have happened four or five years ago. Why now? What is the point? Statistically speaking, Osman’s game has slowly improved over the years. This season, the 31-year-old’s pass completion has averaged at 89%, and his final third pass completion is 85%, a slight increase on last season’s 83% pass completion and 78% final third pass completion. But it’s not as if England’s new man has been pulling off the spectacular – his two goals and one assist are in keeping with Osman’s usual return by the end of the season.
Osman himself has admitted his inclusion in the England squad is as much due to the good form of Everton this season as it is his own. “We’re playing the best football we’ve played as a club for a good number of years. To find ourselves fourth in the league is brilliant and this has probably played a big part,” the Evertonian told Sky Sports News on November 12th.
The midfielder is not running the Everton team. Marouane Fellaini has become the Toffees’ talisman this season, with his combative performances, fine finishing, large hair (described in The Guardian as “the bel-fro”) and the most outrageous chest control in world football.
Osman’s long standing exclusion from the national team is typical of what’s wrong with the English game. The 31-year-old is tidy and skilful and keeps the ball well – qualities that the England team have been lacking over the past few years, especially since the absence of Joe Cole, who now plays as if he’s got lead in his boots – magnetic lead; which repels the ball into ridiculous possession-losing directions.
Instead, Eriksson, McClaren, and Capello constantly battled with the ever-failing Lampard-Gerrard paradox which apparently no manager could ever find a solution to. Failing that, Carrick, Barry, Parker and Hargreaves have been sat in the midfield next to either Gerrard or Lampard, but have also failed to convince. Hargreaves was a mix between a stroke of luck and a terrible idea – he played well for one tournament when everyone else in the squad played very badly. Scott Parker is another man brought to the international scene far too late considering he’s played consistently well for four of his five clubs (the other being Chelsea where he didn’t get any game time). Meanwhile, Gareth “pass the ball to the person who just passed it to me (maybe for three or four times in a row) Barry”, sucks all the creativity out of the England midfield, while Michael Carrick remains a somewhat passive element.
I’m not the only England fan who cannot understand why the national team tend to get the ball into the opposition half, then slowly pass it around the back-line, shifting right to left, left to right. If you watch, Gareth Barry passes the ball five or six times in a row between himself and Ashley Cole, without the ball ever moving up into the midfield area, where teams are expected to keep the ball – like Spain would, for example.
Gerrard and Lampard, although their quality cannot be denied, are also a detrimental cause of this style of play. Both are all-action players. They hit powerful shots, long driven balls, big crosses and in Gerrard’s case huge tackles. But its all a bit glory-hunting is it not? There’s no desire to keep and control the ball and thus pace of the game, it’s a simple get-it-up-there policy, bypassing the midfield area, and rarely pinning back the opposition into their own box.
Leon Osman is the remedy to that. Small passes, flicking the ball around corners, clever movement (as oppose to James Milner’s constant but slow and pointless movement), and an element of creativity, as well as an eye for goal. England will for the foreseeable future be a 4-4-2 team, and it is therefore understandable why coaches opt for defensive security next to Gerrard or Lampard, as many teams have a third man in the middle of the park.
But, the most successful England midfield that I can remember is Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes. Now Leon Osman is no Paul Scholes, but right now he’s as close as we’ve got, apart from making the ginger-haired maestro return to international football.
Just to put Osman’s call up into context, here is a list of some of the players taht have got a call-up over Leon Osman in the past. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stewart Downing, Joey Barton, Jermaine Jenas, Jordan Henderson, Keiron Dyer, Jay Bothroyd, Dave Nugent, Matthew Upson.
The list goes on, and will continue to grow unless this shocking mismanagement of the national side is banished to where it belongs.