x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Leon Osman has grown thanks to Everton's loyalty scheme

Leon Osman has become the fulcrum of Everton's midfield and surely Turkey and Cyprus will be alerted to his international availability.

Leon Osman had made more than 250 appearances for Everton since making his first-team debut in 2004. His versatility allows him to operate anywhere in midfield, as well as a more creative role behind the strikers.
Leon Osman had made more than 250 appearances for Everton since making his first-team debut in 2004. His versatility allows him to operate anywhere in midfield, as well as a more creative role behind the strikers.

Others get the plaudits, but Leon Osman's versatility make him the one midfielder the club wouldn't do without, says Richard Jolly

Mentions of the two long-serving locals on Merseyside who are perceived as the heart and soul of their club tend to be references to Liverpool's captain and vice-captain. Across Stanley Park, however, Everton have their equivalents of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert do not attract the same publicity - indeed, for much of their long careers at Goodison Park, they have not ranked as first choices - but they are the constants, the anachronisms in a world of shifting loyalties.

These are the men who have stayed for so long that they are part of the scenery. To some, they seemed a protected species. A month ago, David Moyes issued a stout defence of the loyalists.

"As long as I'm here Ossie [Osman] and Tony Hibbert will be here, as long as they want to be here," he said. "They're not always our best players, but they certainly always do their job and they know the mechanics of the club and they know what's required."

Now his words may require a rethink. In a six-game sequence that has produced Everton's finest form of the season, Osman has been their outstanding player.

He has contributed three goals and two assists in an unbeaten run that has delivered 14 points.

Everton go to Manchester United on Saturday with a better recent record than the Premier League leaders.

In the process, Osman has emerged from the shadows of the supposed stars.

Without the injured Tim Cahill, the 29-year-old has filled the pivotal role behind the sole striker, one he has rarely been granted. Without the sidelined Mikel Arteta, he has also been the creative fulcrum of the team.

"He was fantastic, probably the difference in the game," said Moyes after Osman scored in Saturday's 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers.

"We needed his skills, his ability on the ball to make things work, and he has certainly done that.

"We're missing a lot of key players but Osman was terrific. We've needed him because we've lacked that sort of player since Steven Pienaar's gone. We've also lost Mikel Arteta so we've been missing that creativity. Osman did all that and more."

A utility player is receiving a reward both for his versatility and his fidelity. "Ossie would have played any position," Moyes said.

Much of an Everton career of more than 250 appearances has come on the right flank but, like Arteta and the departed Pienaar, he is also able to operate on the left and in the centre of midfield. An ability to play in the hole behind a centre-forward makes him four players in one.

Increasingly, however, he has been perceived as the lesser of the trio. Arteta is the artist, Pienaar was the talent coveted by Arsenal and Liverpool before being signed by Tottenham Hotspur. Lacking a similar reputation, Osman was overlooked.

The right of midfield has been described as Everton's problem position. It was a perception that developed after the 2009 FA Cup final where Osman and a struggling Hibbert formed Everton's right flank while the excellent combination of Pienaar and Leighton Baines allowed them to excel on the left.

Since then, Osman's place appeared under threat. Landon Donovan was borrowed from Major League Soccer and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov brought in from Russia to play on the right.

More recently, Seamus Coleman has been the regular, performing with a verve that brought the young Irishman a place on the shortlist for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Yet a focus on Osman's dependability and determination can be to his detriment. As Moyes has admitted: "He is magnificent with the ball at his feet."

As his recent run shows, he is a technician capable of delivering goals from long range: one, against AS Larissa, was voted Everton's goal of the season in 2007/08. An average of a strike every seven games is excellent for one who does not take penalties and is rarely afforded opportunities from free kicks.

Osman is a few games behind Hibbert, but likely to end up as the most used product of the club's youth system since David Unsworth.

Born in Billinge, a suburb of Wigan, he is not a Merseysider, but a Lancastrian, albeit one with a cosmopolitan background.

He is eligible to play for both Turkey and Cyprus because of his father, though he has represented neither. Indeed, the farthest he has strayed is to Carlisle and Derby, for loan spells in his younger days.

Those apart, he is a one-club man. They are not just confined to Liverpool on Merseyside.