MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 04: John O'Shea of Manchester United smiles after his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match between Manchester United and Schalke at Old Trafford on May 4, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
"He is a great professional. The boy never complains. He is happy to play anywhere. He has not always been a number one choice but he produces 30 performances a season and it is a contribution we are grateful for. He is so versatile and offers such great value for us." - Manager Sir Alex Ferguson on John O'Shea after the Irishman's winner versus Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final.
Quite simply, if I left you with that quote from Fergie, that probably would suffice for an argument as to why O'Shea should not be sold this summer. This is not say that he is a world-class footballer - he clearly isn't. This also is not to say that he does not have limitations as a player - he clearly does. However, as rumors run rampant that he will be sold to Sunderland in the coming days, this is a good time to expand on the high-praise that the manager reigned on O'Shea.
"He is a great professional, the boy never complains. He is happy to play anywhere"
Back in October of 2008, when an injury ravaged Manchester United side defeated Dyanamo Kiev in Champions League play, O'Shea had this to say about the various roles he played that night: "It's always going to be like that for me. I was due to start the game in midfield but played most of it at left-back and then finished in midfield. I just enjoy being in the team."
In a day and age when footballers appear to increasingly feel entitled, and perhaps this perception is blurred by the madness that is the current transfer window, it is refreshing to see a player go about his business in such a humble and content manner. I have never met O'Shea, nor have I have ever corresponded with him, however, his continual rejection of guaranteed first-team football elsewhere hints loudly at what he values - trophies and an appreciation of being part of a special club like United. This is a man that is aware of his role and is willing to selflessly sacrifice for his team's success - this is the type of professional that so many trophy-laden sides cannot do without.
"He has not always been a number one choice but he produces 30 performances a season and it is a contribution we are grateful for"
It was the 2002-03 season, one in which O'Shea first began to feature in regular first-team football with United, where he arguably had his best campaign for the club - he was even short-listed for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. In the following season, O'Shea deputised admirably for Rio Ferdinand after the center-back received a suspension for missing a drug test. In subsequent seasons, the Irishman was always second choice at full-back to either Gabriel Heinze, Patrice Evra, Gary Neville, and to Rafael da Silva recently. However, despite this, and due to injury to others and squad rotation, O'Shea always found himself making 30-40 appearances on an annual basis. Some of these performances may have failed to inspire at times, which has brought criticism from the likes of Roy Keane amongst some others, but he mostly remained reliable and a vital squad player. He has been happy to play anywhere on the pitch - it is a contribution that Fergie does, and that supporters should, feel grateful for.
Quite obviously, O'Shea biggest strength lies in his versatility. Despite his willingness to get forward from either full-back position, he has never been confused for Dani Alves or Roberto Carlos. Despite his willingness to fill-in at midfield, he has never been confused for Paul Scholes or Xavi. Despite his willingness to fill-in even at goalkeeper or striker, he has never been confused for Edwin van der Sar or Wayne Rooney - even if Fergie did dub him "The Cat!" for O'Shea's 10-minute stint in between the posts versus Tottenham Hotspur in 2007. His competent defending has contributed to United's success over the years - most notably at full-back and as a defensive midfielder. These are contributions that he also just provided during United's most recent run-in during their title-winning season. O'Shea is only 30-years-old - these are qualities that he can still contribute in coming seasons.
If O'Shea is to be sold to Sunderland or any other club, he likely will not provide much return financially. Why then, sell a player that provides such versatility, and one that is so privy and appreciative of the club's tradition and culture for such a meager return? If you heard that United were in the transfer market for a proven and versatile Premier League player, one that has won numerous trophies and has experience on football's grandest stages, and one that is arguably still in their prime, how much would you be willing to pay for that player?
Along with this pedigree, this is a player who is willing to play a humble role and will not impede the progress of promising youngsters such as the da Silva twins, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, and Phil Jones. If anything, this is an experienced winner that can provide invaluable mentorship to these talented defenders. This is not somebody that should be sold for £5-million - at most. O'Shea is somebody that should be allowed to humbly contribute while proudly wearing the shirt he seems to appreciate so much - while ably doing so at minimal cost. Unless he has had a change of heart and now seeks regular first-team football, O'Shea should continue to be a vital squad player at Old Trafford.