I’ve decided to write this letter of apology to you following your performance in Saturday’s derby.
Over the past few months I’ve made no secret of my doubts as to your ability and value to the team.
After the Fulham game I labelled you ‘embarrassing,’ at the game at Upton Park, I described you as ‘the worst player on the pitch.’
Following the league game at the Reebok, I devoted a whole paragraph to you, claiming you were: ‘a six out of ten player at best’ and then comparing your appearances for United to ‘putting away the good china and bringing out the paper plates for less important guests.’ The nadir of my tirade was actually questioning Sir Alex’s sanity in preferring you to Rafael and Wes Brown.
It wasn’t always like this though, it’s not like I doubted you from the start. I remember you bursting onto the scene in 2002. I proclaimed you as the ‘new Denis Irwin’ – admittedly somewhat over the top. I shouted that Jermaine Jenas getting Young PFA Player of the year ahead of you only proved that footballers were stupid and ignorant. I can recall you cutting inside and hitting the bar against Newcastle like it was yesterday.
Who could forget your goal against Arsenal in 2005, you’re Schmeichel worthy stint in goal at White Hart Lane?
Then there was the goal against Liverpool.
That winner in front of the Kop sealed your entry into both mine and every other United fans list of heroes. It was my favourite moment of the season as we wrestled the title back from Chelsea- with your winner being an important part, your post match interview was even better: “The winner in the 90th minute at Anfield in front of the Kop, Gary Neville has told me that it’s his dream and I have just gone and done it.” Genius.
Yet for some reason things seemed to go sour between us, your performances seemed to get gradually less and less impressive, until they became rather worrying. I must admit my own problems with you weren’t helped by my love of Wes Brown and then Rafael, both of whom I’ve always thought of as far superior.
Don’t get me wrong, despite my misgivings about you, I still cheered you on, Porto at home 2009 was a case in point, everyone was screaming at you as you gave the ball away numerous times, yet I got behind you, “Unlucky Johnny Lad!” When you gave the ball away, “Great ball O’Shea, that’s more like it!” every time you made a simple pass.
I may be wrong, but standing right near the tunnel in the right back position, I was sure you could hear me drowning out the doubters. I was as pleased as anyone to see you score the winner in the next Champion’s League game at Old Trafford against Arsenal. That’s the O’Shea of old I said to myself with a smile.
This season, I’ve had my doubts I’m not going to lie, in fact that’s putting it mildly, against Spurs, I whispered “thank god O’Shea’s not playing” when the greatest player in the universe visited, and breathed another sigh of relief when Sir Alex brought on Brown instead of your good self.
Upon hearing on Talksport that you’d been given a £80,000 a week new contract, I almost crashed my car, even finding myself agreeing with Adrian Durham AND Darren Gough for the first ever time.
Before the game against City, I nearly spat my tea all over my breakfast when I saw the team news: “O-fooking-Shea, is Fergie p*ssed?” No, Fergie knew exactly what he was doing and so did you. Your performance against City was quite simply colossal, Rooney’s goal may be the talking point- and rightly so, Chris Smalling may be getting all the defensive plaudits but for me it’s all about the resurrection of John O’Shea.
The signs were there against Villa only a week earlier where in the second half you went on a Gazza- ’96-esque run in the second half that had me choking on my previous words. Against City though, you took it to another level.
I’m not too big to admit when I’m wrong and although ‘one swallow does not a spring make’, I’m confident that this is a turning point, that I’ve been grossly unfair on you these past months and that you are more than worthy of wearing the Red shirt. In the derby – arguably the biggest game of the season-your passing was inch perfect, the timing of your challenges infallible, in the air you were a towering inferno, unflappable, unbeatable and unstoppable all rolled into one.
Johnny I’m sorry, welcome back, you’ve been sorely missed.
Read more of Justin’s work at ‘Red Flag Flying High’