After almost a decade of solid service for Everton, the talents of Leon Osman are set to be recognised on a wider stage after the midfielder was named by Roy Hodgson in the England squad to play Sweden later this month, joining teammates Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines.
To say Osman’s inclusion came as a surprise would not be inaccurate. But to say it is undeserved would be. At 31 it appeared Osman’s chance of international football had long since gone, not having played for England at youth level since the under-15s or been named in a prior senior squad. If Osman does feature against Sweden he will be the oldest England debutant since Kevin Davies in 2010, and the oldest Everton player to make his England bow since 34-year-old Dicky Downs in 1920.
Yet there is no reason why age should be a barrier to Osman’s international future. Raheem Sterling, at the other end of the spectrum and from the other side of Stanley Park, has also been picked, 14 years Osman’s junior and with far less Premier League experience, and few will question that decision. In the rush to proclaim the latest teenage sensation there exists the danger of overlooking some of the league’s wise heads and most consistent performers, but by acknowledging Osman’s contribution to Everton’s fine start to the season, Hodgson has deftly avoided that fate.
And Osman has undoubtedly been one of the standouts of David Moyes’ team. Marouane Fellaini has taken the headlines, with the partnership of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar close behind, but Osman has quietly kept pace with the trio. Against Fulham last weekend in particular, Osman was modestly sublime. According to WhoScored, Osman at Craven Cottage completed 90% of his passes, a ratio bettered only by Seamus Coleman and Phil Neville, but Osman had more touches than both. He also had the most shots of any player on the field, and put in the most tackles too.
Osman’s stats show just how rounded his game has become. He may only stand around 173cm (about 5’8”) and weigh 67kg (about 10.5st) but Osman is never outmuscled in the centre of midfield, comfortably his best position. In one memorable passage of play against Fulham, Osman disposed the much stronger Dimitar Berbatov and teed up Fellaini, whose deflected shot hit the post. The instant reaction was to marvel at how close Fellaini came to a first-ever Everton hat-trick, but the burst of action summed up much of Osman’s career, a vital contribution going unnoticed as others get the glory.
There is little dispute from Goodison Park that Osman deserves his place amongst the country’s most talented midfielders. Moyes recognised Osman’s potential in 2003 when he handed the then-21-year-old his debut, against Wolverhampton Wanderers, in which Osman scored. Almost 350 games later and Osman has not only consistently retained his place in Moyes’ side but grown to be one of the side’s senior and most influential players. Better late than never, then, for the unassuming Osman’s well-earned England debut.
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