By David Lynch
For once, the biggest question thrown up by the announcement of an England squad did not concern whether or not the latest addition to the ranks deserved their place or not. This time in fact, the conundrum on everyone’s lips was just who might replace Leon Osman as the most prominent uncapped player whose talent continues to be ignored.
The Everton midfielder was finally handed recognition on Thursday, as Roy Hodgson offered him a chance at international football ahead of next week’s friendly clash with Sweden. But, unlike several recent maiden call-ups, whether or not the 31-year-old had earned his place amongst the nation’s finest was not disputed.
Osman has been a credible performer at Premier League level over the last nine seasons, but has steadily improved over the last three to become one of its more prominent talents. The Wigan-born playmaker has only once finished outside the top-flight’s top 10 positions during his spell in the first team, having been a talismanic figure during the club’s David Moyes-led renaissance.
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One move which has facilitated his development into a fully-fledged international is a recent deployment in a deeper position due to Marouane Fellaini’s successes at the top of the pitch. Not only has this tactical switch got the best out of the Belgian, it has helped his team-mate excel in creating a supply line.
Osman has passed some of the toughest tests as a midfielder in England already so far this season, as the Toffees have beaten Manchester United, hammered Swansea and drawn with Liverpool. The latter game, a typically feisty Merseyside derby, saw him come out as the top passer in a battleground containing stars such as Nuri Sahin, Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen – proof of his rightful position amongst exalted company.
Despite his withdrawn position, Osman has also netted three goals in 11 appearances so far, meaning he is on target to beat his best-ever total of seven before the campaign is out. This is perhaps indicative of his improved timing - the sense of being in the right place at the right time which comes with an experienced footballing mind.
Of course it could be argued that, at 31, the Englishman is past an age at which he is likely to make a consistent impact on the international stage. The most recent squad also contains Raheem Sterling, a player who is 14 years shy of such seniority and has the potential to make himself a member of the first team in time for the 2014 World Cup, when Osman will be 33.
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English players who have been routinely uncared for can now foster hope, the national team is no longer the preserve of the select few, play well and you can make it. And a positive by-product of that fact is the increased competition could well keep those cruising in the comfort zone firmly on their toes.
So in that sense, Osman’s call-up is good for England for reasons beyond his obvious quality.
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