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Dublin: -1°C Friday 4 December 2020

'Sheasy could play anywhere. He could be centre back, right back, holding midfield, in goals too'

Wes Brown recalls fond memories playing with John O’Shea at Man United and Sunderland.

John O'Shea and Wes Brown pictured together in 2006.
John O'Shea and Wes Brown pictured together in 2006.
Image: EMPICS Sport

LEADERSHIP QUALITIES COME in all shapes and sizes but someone who can stand up and be counted winning league titles and scrapping against the mire of a relegation battle is to be admired.

So often under-appreciated within English football, John O’Shea is someone his former team-mate Wes Brown is keen to big up. Brown has played alongside some of the best defenders in the game including Ferdinand, Vidic and Blanc.

But he is keen to take a few moments to sing O’Shea’s praises, a player he battled alongside winning Champions Leagues at Man United but also fighting against the drop during more difficult days at Sunderland.

The Waterford man has a trophy collection which would be the envy of anyone. Five Premier League titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup, the aforementioned European Cup, as well as six other titles including a Fifa Club World Cup, Community Shields and, who could possibly forget, that Uefa U16 European Championship in the green of Ireland.

O’Shea made 256 appearances at Old Trafford under Alex Ferguson, spending over two decades at Man United. Speaking in Dublin today, Brown is happy to recall memories of his own successes, but is keen to pay the Irish defender his due as well.

soccer-barclays-premier-league-manchester-united-v-sunderland-old-trafford Radamel Falcao is challenged by John O'Shea and Wes Brown. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“We’re good mates,” Brown tells The42. “Defending-wise, we pretty much knew how each other played from being at Man United and then going to Sunderland as well. That was the easy part and luckily we got on off the pitch. Being mates made it a lot easier.

“We’ve had fantastic years together and obviously we’ve had some difficult years, being at Sunderland at the time. We managed to get through it and now he’s doing his thing coaching, which is brilliant. I do think he will make a good coach. I’ve always said that he should definitely try it, because he’s got the right personality.

He knows the game, he’s won a lot of trophies as well. He’s learnt off some of the best managers and we’ve had a lot of managers, different types of managers, and that’s the way he should go.”

Brown and O’Shea were never likely to grab too many headlines with stars like Beckham, Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo doing the business down the other end of the pitch. But their longevity and own personal journeys to the top of world football are more than worthy of recognition too.

“Listen, you’ve got the superstars at Man United,” he smiles. “It’s a fantastic club and you’ll always have your superstars, but the likes of myself and Sheasy — we know what it’s about. We know what we’re doing, we know what we’re there for — and that’s to win.

wes-brown Wes Brown was speaking at the Eir Sport launch on Wednesday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“There was a group of lads there together and there was no moaning, no friction. Obviously you’ll have your battles on the pitch sometimes, but ultimately there was only one goal and that was winning trophies. That’s what everyone understood.”

Brown, who retired last year following a brief spell playing and coaching in the Indian Super League alongside René Meulensteen, says O’Shea has always stood out as someone who would excel in the coaching department.

He understands the game very well,” he explains. “We’ve had some fantastic times and we’ve had some downfalls as well at Sunderland, where it’s been difficult. It’s good, in a sense, that he’s seen both sides. We grew up only knowing one thing and that was challenging for titles and trophies and cups.

“We go to Sunderland where the first season was fine and then all of a sudden we’re in a relegation battle every year. It makes you see both sides, how players are, because players are different when you’re at the bottom. You need players to all stick together. You need to stay as a team and John has seen all that. He’s seen both sides and I think that will help as well.”

The 39-year-old emphasises that O’Shea’s experience at both ends of the table will stand him in good stead. Displaying those same innate leadership qualities at both ends of the spectrum make the former Ireland international stand apart.

soccer-uefa-champions-league-group-e-manchester-united-v-villarreal-old-trafford The pair spent over two decades together at Old Trafford. Source: EMPICS Sport

“Obviously at the time there was Lee [Cattermole], Sheasy and myself who were the most senior players,” he says of their time together at the Stadium of Light. “And it gets to the point sometimes where you do need to have your own meetings and just try and get all the lads going again, get them focussed.

“You have to battle through this and play your hearts out. We did have a couple of those [private] meetings and John was very good how he spoke and the way he presented to everyone. Luckily enough when I was there we didn’t go down.

I know the next season my contract ran out and they did go down, but I think at Sunderland that was always going to happen. It was hard, because they went down and down again [back to back relegations]. That’s hard, because it’s a great club.”

Brown says it was a major culture shock to go from the glories of Manchester United to scrapping for mere survival in the Premier League after joining the Black Cats in 2011. The demands and the expectations were completely different.

“It was different. Very different. The players are different and if you realistically look at it, there are only four teams that challenge for the title. It was difficult at the beginning because we were losing games and lads might be having a laugh and a joke, and that’s normal.

“But you need to work out what’s right and when they’re going too far. Losing two games on the bounce at Man United… I probably wouldn’t leave my house for a few days. It was different [at Sunderland] and people still have to live their lives like normal people. It was hard to get the balance, but eventually you understand it and you just play on.”

He says the pressure at United was always an ever-present, as Ferguson fostered and maintained an environment of high standards where second place just wasn’t good enough.

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“Listen, if you play bad it’s just the way it is. Talking about championships, at Man United we were always in there. You might have had a bad game or whatever and you just want to get it right, so you just chill out. I probably wasn’t one to go out and do stuff if we got beat. I would just chill out at home with the kids.”

A final word to O’Shea. A Manchester local born-and-bred, Brown joined United three years prior to his young colleague arriving in 1999 as Ferguson’s troops geared up for that incredible treble.

soccer-barclays-premier-league-sunderland-v-manchester-city-stadium-of-light Brown and O'Shea both moved from Manchester United to Sunderland. Source: Richard Sellers

It was his versatility, Brown attests, which offers an insight into what made O’Shea the footballer he was. Very often under-appreciated throughout his career, the Waterford man would always put the team first and stand in whenever and wherever he was needed.

“Sheasy could play anywhere,” Brown says. “He could be left back, centre back, right back, left wing-back, right wing-back, centre midfield, holding midfield, in goals too. He was very versatile and I think you always need those sort of players in your team.

“That’s why he did so well at the club, because when he was needed, he played well. You could never say he ever had a bad patch where he wasn’t doing well. He was always decent.”

Wes Brown was at the Sport Ireland Campus on Wednesday to help launch a new season of action on the Eir Sport pack.

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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