I once said that I would prefer to have Leon Osman in my team than Mesut Ӧzil. Now, while this may have been a slightly, if not completely, biased view given while defending him to one from the dark side of Merseyside, there is no footballer that deserves praise more than the diminutive midfielder. A product of the famed Everton academy, he has made 388 appearances so far for the Toffees over the last decade, a number that he’ll be hoping to add to further over the next few seasons.
Over the years of servitude he has had his ups and downs, and sure his game isn’t perfect, with a perceived lightweight physique being one fault that has led to some derision from the terraces. However he has given us some moments of inspiration as well. His goal against Larissa in the then named UEFA Cup in 2007 was the goal of that season, a sublime, swerving finish after a Steven Pienaar back heel capping off one of the best Everton goals of the David Moyes era. He was also a key part of that magical season in 2004/05 when Everton shocked the Premier League in coming fourth.
Ossie, as he’s affectionately known, didn’t make his debut for Everton until he was 21, in a 4-3 defeat against Tottenham in 2003. Even then he didn’t play regularly until that great 2004/05 season. So, any way you look at it, he was a late starter at 1st team level. No one could have told from the start how important he would become throughout his career. He played an integral part of the team that dragged itself from relegation stragglers to become regular challengers and partakers in European competition. Now, in his years as an elder statesman of the Everton squad, he is playing an important part in Roberto Martinez’s revolution, helping alongside Gareth Barry, Tim Howard and others to make sure the youngsters have the right environment to thrive in.
He has always been praised for his precision passing, brilliant close control, and his natural goal scoring ability. Actually wait, maybe not that last one, with Osman not allergic to the net, but at least getting the sweats when nearby to it. He has never been the most natural of goal scorers, usually preferring to leather it, with varying results, from the spectacular to the more unimpressive. He has still managed 54 goals in his 388 appearances, not bad for a midfielder who always preferred to pass than shoot. His tenacity has also always been noticeable, making up for his small stature with a willingness to run himself in to the ground for the team.
The man himself said on the Everton Twitter account yesterday that his best games were, ‘a 3-1 win at Villa a few years ago & I scored two. The home Fiorentina game too - the crowd was electric!’ He had other great moments as well though, including that Larissa strike. His first ever Everton goal against Wolves a headed finish on his full debut in May 2004. His first ever goal against Liverpool came in the 2-2 draw in 2012, a low grass skimming strike beneath many attempted blocks from the Liverpool defence to start a comeback from a couple of goals behind. His left footed wonder strike in 2013 against Man City, a thumping effort that sliced through the air past a frozen Joe Hart really summing up the ability that he has always had. His dive head first in to Bacary Sagna early in that great win against Arsenal just late last season showing his great commitment.
For although Ossie might not be the biggest, or God forbid me saying it, the best, but he will always do anything for the shirt. That is why he will, at least in this writer’s eyes, always be an Everton legend.