Farewell Wesley & Johnny…
7th July 2011, a sad date for United fans everywhere that sees two bona fide legends of the club, John O’Shea and Wes Brown, move on to pastures new.
“Legends?!” I hear you scoff. Well no, I obviously don’t mean legends that sit alongside the greats like Best, Cantona, Charlton, Giggs and the rest. They don’t even fit into the category of your G-Nevs, Irwins, McGraths, Vidics et al as defensive legends. But in terms of commitment to the cause, unwavering loyalty and fantastic memories they are right up there. They’ll sit alongside the likes of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Lee Sharpe and Brian McClair in that sense.
Firstly though, it has to be pointed out that between them they’ve won 10 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups, 3 Champions Leagues, 5 League Cups, 8 Charity/Community Shields and a World Club Cup. Tell me that Steven Gerrard wouldn’t sell his left arm, the undying love of the Liverpool fans (I’m not saying he would have to leave Liverpool, just not be adored by their fans. Maybe held in the same regard as, say, Didi Hamann) and Alex Curran for that? And they’ve not always been bit part players either…
Wes Brown burst onto the scene in 1998 like a quick, strong baked bean. A Manchester Red, the fans were always going to love him. Injuries derailed his early career but he still managed to win the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year twice (only Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs have managed to do the same) and, after a year out, came back strong enough to feature in the 2000-01 Premier League Team of the Year. But what I, and most United fans, will remember him for is the 2007-08 season. The year we won the League and the Champions League by a hair’s breadth from Chelsea (Viva John Terry…), the year Cristiano Ronaldo bagged 42 goals and destroyed all before him, the year a young Carlos Tevez endeared himself to United fans with some great skill and dedication (whatever happened to him?). But who featured more than anyone that season?
Brown featured 52 times that season, one more than Rio Ferdinand (I know, Rio Ferdinand featuring in over 30 games…mad), and grabbed his only goal of the campaign in a 3-0 battering of Liverpool. But the most impressive thing was how consistent Brown was at right back. Gone were the lapses in concentration and the injuries. In their place was the skill, pace and power we were promised when he made his debut ten seasons earlier. Unfortunately for Wes the injuries returned the following year and a combination of the emergence of the Da Silvas (and John O’Shea, more on him shortly) and a falling out with Fergie have lead to his exit at the surprisingly young age of 31. But even after the reported bust up with Sir Alex he continued to give his all, never moaned and captained the team in the embarrassing 1-0 win over Crawley Town, bagging the only goal.
And then there’s Johnny O’Shea. He emerged slightly later than Brown into the first team but what an emergence. A key player in the 2002-03 season (behind only Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes in the end of season awards), O’Shea showed how comfortable he was by playing all across the defence and in midfield, a versatility that stood him in good stead over the next eight seasons. But the crowning achievement came against Real Madrid, Old Trafford, April 2003. People remember the Ronaldo hat-trick and standing ovation, the Beckham brace from the bench and all the fuss surrounding his imminent exit, but for me what stands out is a young O’Shea on the left wing, facing up to then Galactico and Portugal legend Luis Figo…and nutmegging him to the joy of the Old Trafford faithful.
Unfortunately for O’Shea his form dropped in the following years and Fergie gradually used him as a squad ultility man. But like Paul Weller and Soda Streams O’Shea had something of a renaissance in 2006-07 after years in the wilderness. He didn’t start every week but boy was he important. Five goals, the sort of tally we hadn’t seen from a defender since that other Irish hero Denis Irwin, and numerous standout performances. Was it his accidental mid-air backheel against Copenhagen that was the best? Or the goal against Everton that got us back in the game at 2-0 and lead to a 4-2 win? There’s the famous last minute strike against Liverpool of course, a goal that all but cemented the title and broke thousands of scouse hearts. I think O’Shea’s quote after that says it all – “Gary Neville just told me I lived his dream”.
Johnny went from strength to strength and in the absence of Wes Brown and G-Nev became first choice right-back in 2008-09, netting against Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final and starting in the final against an imperious Barcelona side (whatever happened to them?). But, like Brown, injuries and Da Silvas hurt his chances and now he must move on.
It’s sad that two players who between them have 755 appearances for the club (still a fair few short of Ryan Giggs) and have been at the club since their infancy are moving on, and along with the retirement of G-Nev, Scholes and van der Sar it really does feel like the end of an era. Change is inevitable and it’s not like Paul McCartney leaving The Beatles (whatever happened to them?), but I guarantee when Sunderland visit Old Trafford on bonfire night (how I wish now they were leaving under acrimonious circumstances so I could say “there’ll be fireworks”…) there will be a fair few “When Johnny goes marching down the wing (O’Shea, O’Shea!)” and “Big, Bad Wesley Brown” chants.
There might be a few less for poor Darron Gibson should he join them, but bless him…if someone offered me 58 appearances for United I’d bite their hand off. I’m not sure Stevie G would…