Tuesday 25 June 2019

Comment: Leader John O’Shea has all the attributes to become a Premier League manager


Alex Ferguson in training with John O’Shea. Photo by Manchester United
Alex Ferguson in training with John O’Shea. Photo by Manchester United
Sir Alex Ferguson. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When Roy Keane was asked to pay tribute to John O'Shea ahead of his final Ireland game this Saturday, he eventually reverted to humour.

The Ireland assistant had said all the right things about the 'brilliant pro' and 'great lad' which would be standard terms that spring to mind when thinking of the 37-year-old.

"Strangely enough he always seemed really balanced," said Keane, lining up his quip. "We've talked about the pitfalls in football but John always seemed to be really switched on.

"Listen, he could be a raving lunatic when he's at home in the evenings, I hope he is," smiled Keane, changing the tone.

"I hope he's a head case and we're all proved wrong when he's locked up in six months and we're all saying 'Jesus, I never saw that coming.'

"But, no, I don't think so," he said, returning to a serious tone. "He'll probably have a nice steady life. Probably become a coach or a pundit."

John O'Shea. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
John O'Shea. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

They were well-intentioned comments and maybe Keane meant coach in the European sense as opposed to the English definition of the word, which smacks of backroom staff.

O'Shea as a manager?

Don't rule it out as a long-term prospect. His good friend Stephen Hunt mentioned in his Sunday Independent column earlier this year that he had the 'people skills, game knowledge and experience and respect' that reminded him of Mick McCarthy's attributes.

And while he's never had a reputation as a ranter or a raver, his survival at Premier League level for almost the entirety of his senior career - his last season at Sunderland is one to forget - points to a strong character.

Indeed, Keith Andrews has pointed out that working in the Sunderland circus, with all types of managers rolling through the revolving doors, might actually have given him a deeper education in the game. In other words, learning from Paolo Di Canio's mistakes could be just as informative as watching Alex Ferguson at work.

O'Shea has always been thinking ahead. In the summer of 2013, both himself and Glenn Whelan were on the receiving end of ribbing from holiday-bound team-mates when they extended their season to start their coaching badges.

"I am sure a few of those boys are thinking they should have done it now," said O'Shea, last autumn, admitting that he was thinking of pursuing a career in the dugout when he is done playing - he plans to keep going at club level for another season, even if his Irish journey is done.

"Initially, in my head, I see management but it sounds very easy and I don't think it is," he cautioned.

"It is a question of getting a job in the first place, and when you see the turnaround of managers and coaches it is a mental one to get your head around. It is good to be prepared for it, if I do fancy it."

O'Shea does have interests away from the game - he is a keen follower of the horses - but it would be a shock if he broke from football.

He made the transition from teenager to first-team pro relatively seamlessly and never allowed his status at Manchester United to go to his head.

That is something that has been commented on by Irish colleagues. Andrews mentioned one summer gathering where the group sat watching the Champions League final on TV knowing that one of the players on the screen would be joining them the following day.


O'Shea never lorded that status. Nor did he tell tales out of school when it came to being publicly put on the spot about high-profile workmates.

There were countless occasions when he rocked up on Irish press duty to find himself asked for his take on the latest controversy involving Wayne Rooney or Ferguson or - in latter years - the matter of Keane v Ferguson.

He always had the intelligence to handle the situation without swerving into trouble, and those abilities help when it comes to the public side of management.

There have been times where he has called out press over things that he has been unhappy with; he's no shrinking violet.

Across his time at Sunderland, he also had to deal with a couple of diplomatic minefields. Di Canio's infamous stint in charge was a particular test, with the Italian branding O'Shea 'two-faced' for pointing out his team-mates' deficiencies.

It did O'Shea no harm. Falling out with Di Canio is almost a badge of honour and the Italian's public method of dealing with behind-the-scenes grievances highlighted the differences in attitude between the pair.

He respects the code of the dressing room, but that shouldn't be confused with tolerating wrongdoing. O'Shea has always been firm in his own convictions, right back to the days where he waited to do his Leaving Cert before moving to England.

Granted, his mother Mary was a huge influence in that, but others would have lost the plot and insisted on jumping at the first offer. His late father, Jim, was a steadying influence too. O'Shea might have spent his working life surrounded by A-listers, but he remained grounded through it all.

Chris Hughton has already tackled and taken down the nice guy theories. A strong mind can take a man a long way. There could still be mileage in O'Shea's story.

Irish Independent

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