ALEX FERGUSON has confirmed John O’Shea will get the reward for all his patience by confirming the Waterford man will start against Barcelona in next week’s Champions League final.
Although it is nearly a decade since O’Shea made his Manchester United debut at Aston Villa, the Republic of Ireland international has rarely been a regular in Ferguson’s first-choice line-up.
Yet, with Patrice Evra ruled out for various stages of the season through injury and suspension, O’Shea has made frequent appearances at left-back this term.
And, when Gary Neville joined Wes Brown on the injury list later in the campaign, Ferguson turned to O’Shea’s experience when he did not feel teenage Brazilian Rafael was ready for the job.
Now the United boss has assured O’Shea of his place in the side that will tackle Barcelona in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
“John takes his place in Rome because he deserves it,” said Ferguson.
“Because of the injuries to Gary Neville and Wes Brown, he has become a permanent fixture. He is ahead of everyone now.”
O’Shea has never been one of the most talked about players in the United squad, although he has not been short of admirers elsewhere and it is a fair bet he could have moved on if he had chosen to do so.
Instead, he preferred to battle on with the Old Trafford outfit, for whom he has now made 341 appearances, including a few minutes in goal when Edwin van der Sar got injured at Tottenham in 2007 after Ferguson had used all his three substitutes.
An unused substitute in last year’s penalty shoot-out triumph against Chelsea, it appeared O’Shea was destined to remain a bit-part player until this season’s dramatic turn of events.
“To my mind John is one of the unsung heroes like we had when Denis Irwin was here,” said Ferguson.
“We used to say Denis was an eight out of 10 player every week but didn’t get the celebrity status of a lot of Manchester United players. John O’Shea falls into the same category.
“He can play anywhere for me and has done, all across the back four and in midfield. He has even played in goal. His performances have improved simply because he has been playing consistently. He is a fantastic type of person. He is well mannered and well brought up. He is an intelligent lad with a great work rate. I am really pleased for him.”
Ferguson is hoping Manchester United’s showdown with Barcelona can buck the trend of drab European showpieces. With the notable exception of Liverpool’s amazing clash with AC Milan in Istanbul four years ago, epic Champions League finals have been rare.
Even United’s own astonishing injury-time comeback against Bayern Munich in 1999 was preceded by a fairly tepid 90 minutes.
Yet next Wednesday promises to be much better. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi engaged in an unofficial contest to be crowned the world’s best player for 2009, Wayne Rooney and Andres Iniesta vying for the best supporting act and others, such as Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry eager to shine themselves, Ferguson has a feeling Rome will play host to a classic.
“Football is always needing a boost,” reflected the United boss. “The players we both have suggests it will be a great final. I hope it lives up to it.”
Meanwhile Rio Ferdinand faces a bit of a sweat before he is declared fit, with Ferguson confirming the England international must shrug off the effects of a calf injury in time to face Hull on Sunday before he is a confirmed starter.
“I am hoping Rio will be fit for Sunday,” said Ferguson.
“If not he will be doubtful for Wednesday, that is for sure, because he needs a game. The plan is to have him back training tomorrow.
“Hopefully once he gets into football training we will have a better idea about his availability for Sunday.
“I think he will probably be fit to play next Wednesday but to go into the Champions League final after three weeks without a game is just too much.”
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