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'My phone was buzzing when the draw was made' - John O'Shea back at Old Trafford for one last hurrah

Reading's Irish defender seeks relief from Championship blues

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John O'Shea and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United celebrate during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Manchester United and Derby County. Photo Credit: Stu Forster/ALLSPORT

John O'Shea and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United celebrate during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Manchester United and Derby County. Photo Credit: Stu Forster/ALLSPORT

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John O'Shea and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United celebrate during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Manchester United and Derby County. Photo Credit: Stu Forster/ALLSPORT

It was almost 20 years ago that John O'Shea enjoyed a perfect view of the defining moment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United career.

O'Shea, part of United's youth team set-up in 1999, was sitting in the middle tier of fans behind the goal at the Nou Camp when Solskjaer stuck out his right leg to deflect Teddy Sheringham's header high into Bayern Munich's net, deep into stoppage time.

"I was in my first year at the club, and they flew the youth team and reserves over, and brought us to the game," O'Shea recalls. "It was incredible, an amazing finish."

It did not take O'Shea long to graduate from being Solskjaer's fan to his team-mate. He made his debut for United alongside the Norwegian later that year aged 18, and they remained colleagues for the next eight years, stockpiling trophies as they went.

Today, they meet again in the FA Cup, but on opposing sides, as O'Shea - now with Reading - returns to Old Trafford for their third-round tie.

Whereas his old friend is all smiles after making the strongest start of any United manager since Matt Busby, with four wins from his first four games in charge, O'Shea's fortunes are on the wane.

Reading have not won since November 3, and are second from bottom in the Championship.

Today's game appears to be a hiding to nothing, yet O'Shea, 37, is determined to make the most of what will almost certainly be his last visit to his old home as a player.

"The likelihood is this will be the last chance I get to go up and be at Old Trafford," he says.

"It's always a great occasion, to see familiar faces who I had amazing times with, not just Ole, but Michael Carrick and Mick Phelan.

"My phone was buzzing when the draw was made, from family and friends. One or two texts with Michael, but it's all been friendly so far! It will be one to look forward to, but one you'll be hoping to cause an upset."

O'Shea at least has form at his old club. He won there twice with Sunderland in 2014 - once on penalties in the League Cup semi-final, and again a few months later when Ryan Giggs was in caretaker charge following the sacking of David Moyes.

The former Ireland international has not worn a United shirt since 2011, but the time seems to fall away when he reflects on how difficult it has been to see the team he once captained become unrecognisable in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

"It has been tough to watch at times. You always felt it was going to be difficult, replacing Sir Alex, but you probably thought they'd cope a little better," O'Shea, who has had 16 different managers since leaving Old Trafford, says.

"Managers coming in have wanted to create their own impression. Whereas Ole has come in under the radar, bringing his own smile and freshness to it. He seems to be the perfect man at the minute."

O'Shea calls his former team-mate the "perfect ambassador" for the club, and is unsurprised by the impact Solskjaer has had since replacing Jose Mourinho.

He even admits to being "jealous" of the opportunity to lead out a United side, a job he describes as the "ultimate dream" for when he pursues a managerial career.

Reading's new manager, Jose Manuel Gomes - Mourinho's compatriot and friend of 20 years - has not managed a turnaround of Solskjaer's ilk since arriving in Berkshire just before Christmas.

However, the hope is that a break from their abysmal league record will help Reading refocus, although club captain and former United youth player remains an injury absentee, while his compatriot David Meyler has been out of favour.

Though O'Shea "cherishes" the trophies he amassed at United - including five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups and one Champions League - he says remembering the failures is what always spurred them on.

"I am disappointed not to have more FA Cup medals. We lost against Arsenal on penalties in Cardiff in 2005, then we lost against Chelsea at Wembley.

"At United, at that time, you remember the disappointments. The manager spoke about that to make sure we bounced back and had success."

There have been more disappointments than triumphs for Reading in recent seasons, but few would begrudge O'Shea one last Old Trafford hurrah. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk