Underrated Everton midfielder Leon Osman finally earns first England call

 

When Leon Osman joins up with Roy Hodgson's England squad for the first time in Manchester on Sunday, he may find he receives a warm welcome from a player he barely knows.

That man is Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal youngster making his own return to the England set-up after his long injury lay-off, who also happens to be an admirer of the underrated Everton midfielder. It was, after all, during the Goodison club's victory over Tottenham in March that Wilshere tweeted his appreciation of the Everton man's talents. "Osman is a player by the way... plays a bit like Iniesta!" he said.

That comparison with Barcelona's Andres Iniesta would probably be laughed off by Osman himself – the joker in the pack in his club's dressing room – but it offered an insight into how highly regarded the 31-year-old is in football circles.

His manager, David Moyes, suggested recently that Osman's age appeared to be the only impediment to an international call-up but that has now arrived, and he could become England's oldest debutant since Kevin Davies, then 33, appeared against Montenegro in October 2010 – and in the process reignite the debate on the best uncapped Englishman in the Premier League.

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Hodgson, the England manager, said yesterday: "He's a player I've admired since I came back to Fulham five years ago. He's always done extremely well whenever I've played Everton or watched Everton. He's faced great competition in his position, but we've got the opportunity and the space to bring Leon in."

Osman is only 12 months younger than Steven Gerrard – who should earn his 100th cap in next Wednesday's friendly against Sweden in Stockholm – and is by some distance the oldest of the five uncapped players in Hodgson's party. His career trajectory offers a stark contrast with the explosion onto the Premier League and England scene this season by the precocious, jet-heeled Raheem Sterling. Refreshingly, it can be summed up by the unfashionable maxim "good things come to those who wait".

In 1998, Osman was in the same Everton FA Youth Cup-winning team as Tony Hibbert, Richard Dunne, Danny Cadamarteri and Francis Jeffers, yet he had to wait until he was 23, after loan spells at Carlisle and Derby County, for his first senior start in May 2004. His progress had been stalled by two serious injuries – first to a cartilage in the Youth Cup final and then a cruciate ligament in 2001 – and there were doubts about his size, he is 5ft 8in, but eventually his talent told.

Colin Harvey, his youth-team coach at Goodison, told The Independent: "He has not got great pace but has can turn and work the ball and go past people without pace. He has good trickery and feet movement."

One of those small, lightweight footballers too often regarded with suspicion in this country, Osman initially featured more in a wide role under Moyes but is one of the few Englishmen beside Wilshere who "can knit things together" in the middle, according to Joe Royle, who was Everton manager when he joined the club. Royle, a neighbour of the midfielder in Ormskirk, added: "I think it has probably taken Evertonians a long time to appreciate how good he is but there has never been any doubting his ability.

"With smaller players you wonder whether they are strong enough to play in the middle [but] as he has developed and grown stronger and got more football knowledge he can play there comfortably now."

Phil Neville, Osman's captain at Everton, tweeted yesterday that he is "technically as good as anyone" and the little man with the quick feet may now get the chance to show that in an England shirt.

Overlooked: Who else deserves a debut?

Grant Holt

The Norwich striker looks every inch the journeyman, but he scored 15 league goals last term and has three this season – which is three more than Andy Carroll.

Kevin Nolan

West Ham's captain has performed consistently in the Premier League for a decade and already has four goals this term. His only problem is Big Sam isn't England boss.

And, er... Mark Noble

Like Osman, the West Ham midfielder has been accused of lacking athleticism but he is thriving this year. May not quite be ready to make the step up to international level.

England squad

To play Sweden in Stockholm next Wednesday:

Caps/Goals

F Forster (Celtic) 0/0

J Hart (Man City) 26/0

J Ruddy (Norwich) 1/0

C Jenkinson (Arsenal) 0/0

L Baines (Everton) 12/1

R Bertrand (Chelsea) 2/0

G Cahill (Chelsea) 11/2

S Caulker (Spurs) 0/0

P Jagielka (Everton) 16/1

G Johnson (Liverpool) 43/1

R Shawcross (Stoke) 0/0

K Walker (Spurs) 4/0

T Cleverley (Man Utd) 5/0

S Gerrard (Liverpool) 99/19

A Lennon (Tottenham) 20/0

L Osman (Everton) 0/0

J Shelvey (Liverpool) 1/0

R Sterling (Liverpool) 0/0

T Walcott (Arsenal) 30/4

J Wilshere (Arsenal) 5/0

A Young (Man Utd) 26/6

W Rooney (Man Utd) 78/32

D Sturridge (Chelsea) 3/0

D Welbeck (Man Utd) 13/4

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