Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sunday and Monday’s Fantasy Review

Norwich 1-1 Stoke-  A goal from defender De Laet makes him the game’s most impressive fantasy contributor, while Jon Walter’s penalty miss and Leon Barnett’s sending off provided us with a couple duds.

Credit too, to Norwich penalty hero John Ruddy, and the scorer of Stoke’s last minute equalizer – Kenwyne Jones.

MOTM: Ritchie De LaetA goal from defense – always useful.
FOTM: Leon Barnett- Sending off may have been harsh, but the fantasy gods don’t give a toss.

Wolves 2-0 Fulham- Wolves have looked really dangerous so far this season, the speed of their ball movement in the final third particularly impressive. Using a basic 4-4-2, they are a threat in all areas – able to build up play well with the improved Karl Henry and new signing Jamie O’Hara pulling the strings, as well as fire crosses in from the wing; mainly via the boot of Matt Jarvis.

Kevin Doyle made up for his penalty miss last week with a goal, though his idiotic celebration meant point subtraction for a booking.

MOTM: Matt Jarvis- Dangerous all afternoon, and the scorer of the second goal.
FOTM: Patjim Kasami- Looked out of his depth, and hooked at half time.

Bolton 2-3 Manchester City- Where to start, where to start? David Silva continued his blistering form with another goal, while Edin Dzeko added to his tally too. A rare strike from Gareth Barry won’t help many, he has never been a popular fantasy player.

Kevin Davies is one of the fantasy game’s most sought after forwards, and he opened his goal scoring account with a flicked header in the second half. Ivan Klasnic as well is fast becoming an interesting striking option, a fine finish just before the break moved his total to two.

Both defenses were porous, and Jussi Jaaskelainen made a terrible mistake in letting Silva’s shot dribble through.

Finally, congratulations to Micah Richards, Paul Robinson and James Milner (2) for assists.

MOTM: David Silva- A goal and likely performance points. He oozed class all evening long.
FOTM: Jussi Jaaskelainen- Three conceded, and a howler to boot.

Manchester United 3-0 Tottenham- Impressive performances by United youngsters led Fergie’s team to a comfortable 3-0 win. Goals from Anderson and Danny Welbeck will help those daring enough to take a risk, while Rooney’s late header should benefit most of us.

In defense, Phil Jones was particularly superb – making block after block to keep Tottenham out.

MOTM: Danny Welbeck- Cheap, promising and the scorer of United’s opener.
FOTM: Rafael Van der Vaart- Took more shots than anyone else… missed them all.


Incorrigible Mourinho Will Continue To Polarize

In the pantheon of cowardly violence, enter Jose Mourinho. Mike Tyson and Francesco Totti – enjoy the company.

Love him through gritted teeth or hate him guiltily, no one ignores Jose Mourinho. Some say that all geniuses have to have a little madness about them, well, that careful walk, and menacing, almost condescending movement of the finger bore all the hallmarks of insanity. The Portuguese international wasn’t dressed in a grey skirt and matching vest, but his actions last Wednesday were no more mature than that of a petty schoolgirl.

The moral high ground taken by those overly critical in their assessment of Mourinho’s behavior though, is one of such high altitude that the air makes for difficult respiration. The allergy I have to righteous, usually hypocritical indignation is one I’m sure shared by the reader; no one wants yet another annoying exposé – the metaphorical wrist rap is one which really should be outlawed. More interesting than the action itself is the cause, the frustration of the man, the source of Mourinho’s discontent.

Is the Special One losing his touch? Has the once untouchable coach, creator of impregnable teams finally met his match in the tiki-taka of Madrid’s Catalan nemesis? We won’t know the extent of Mourinho’s troubles until the end of the season, and even then, we might not have the opportunity to learn anything at all.

Protected from most criticism by that hefty, armor like substance we call an ego, it will be fascinating to see how the Portuguese reacts if chinks start to appear in that silver lined breast plate.

As cliched as it sounds, Mourinho doesn’t know the meaning of failure, let alone dignified one. Increasingly, the feeling is that if or when such a time comes, the former Chelsea manager’s image will be further tainted not by the defeat itself, but by the maelstrom of vitriol and denial that will engulf it. Mourinho is always the center of attention. When the public eye should have been focused on the potential of a second five plus trophy haul in three seasons for Barca, they instead cast an austere glance towards the Special One. If Guardiola once again comes up trumps in May, you can be sure that Mr. Mourinho will have yet another trick up his sleeve.

It is a shame such is the discussion, for Mourinho doesn’t need to polarize. One of the most analytical, intelligent and tactically aware managers of modern times, Mourinho doesn’t need to attract such negative attention. It should be an intelligent substitution or astute adjustment, not a poke in the eye of an opponent, which headlines the back pages post-Classico.

It is hazy what he is attempting to do, a risky step that shows some lack of self belief. In poking and whinging, arguing and moaning Mourinho trys to inculcate the classic “us against them” mentality into the minds of his disciples. It is ironic though, that the very tactic which Barcelona preferred above all other during the Franco years should reappear decades later on the opposite side of the divide.

But what, when perhaps, his silver encrusted wall crumbles to the ground? When the aura leaves, so often does the success. Tales have been told of teams being beaten before they walk out, trodden on before the opponents have even laced up their boots. With Mourinho in the dug out, such a fate is a likely one. It all has to do with an aura, a sense of deserved-ness, the feeling that winning is not earned, rather received – a god given right that only certain individuals benefit from. It doesn’t last forever.

Just as tennis players like Roger Federer suddenly can’t walk to titles, managers lose the ability inspire fear. At Porto, Chelsea and Inter, Mourinho above all else was feared. United fans saw him as the usurper, the antichrist, arrived suited up and handsome, ready to unseat a forlorn and elderly Ferguson. At Inter too, Machiavellian sentiments manifested themselves in his attitude, and to one side of the San Siro, his stay meant the cancellation of expected celebrations.

In Spain though, he has lost something. While his sojourn into the dressing room via laundry bin, an action perhaps more worthy of scorn than a poke towards the eye, prompted mirth, now his illicit undertakings warrant the sharpening of journalistic knives. In England and Italy, Mourinho earned the right to flaunt the law, and he could combat the scant criticism that came his way with a torrent of trophies. Thanks partly to Barca, partly to Sergio Ramos, he has no silver defense to speak of anymore. Whether or not he gets one back, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Follow The Chairman on Twitter @INFTH

Saturday’s Fantasy Review

Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool- Things just keep getting worse for the Gunners, and in particular high cost fantasy players like Robin Van Persie. Anyone who splashed out on the Dutchman – hoping for instant gratification I presume – will find themselves now well behind the pace, though of course, it’s still early days. On the other hand, Luis Suarez has enjoyed an excellent start to the season, two goals so far and an assist here to boot.

Liverpool’s defense also deserves some credit, with low price players like John Flanagan emerging as useful fantasy weapons.

MOTM: Luis Suarez- Goal, and brilliant twenty minute cameo.
FOTM: Emmanuel Frimpong- Great performance, but sent off in the second half.

Aston Villa 3-1 Blackburn- I tipped Villa to do well this season, and thus far they have made good on that prediction. Fairly solid at the back and dangerous up front, a Europa League push might not be out of the question.

The top performers were obviously in attack for Villa, with Bent, Heskey and Agbonlahor starring. By the same token though, Blackburn’s defenders did not perform at all well, and have now conceded five in two matches.

MOTM: Gabriel Agbonlahor- Goal, assist and cheaper than Bent.
FOTM: Ryan Nelsen- Could have been any Blackburn defender, but Nelsen is the most popular fantasy pick.

Chelsea 2-1 West Brom- A lucky escape for Chelsea, who haven’t looked very impressive during this opening stretch. Florent Malouda’s goal from midfield headlines the attacking point scorers, while Shane Long is fast becoming one of the league’s best value for money signings.

Mid week I wrote about the importance of avoiding Chelsea’s strikers, and that analysis was vindicated by another line-up involving only one center forward.

MOTM: Florent Malouda- Goal from midfield.
FOTM: Jonas Ollson- Two conceded, and a yellow card. Coin flip between him and Gabriel Tamas.

Everton 0-1 QPR- I guess, it was only to be expected. Tommy Smith’s first half goal consigned Everton to yet another disappointing opening day showing.

MOTM: Tommy Smith- Goal, and no one else matched that.
FOTM: Leon Osman- The only Everton player to be booked.

Sunderland 0-1 Newcastle- A goal and clean sheet from Ryan Taylor was the only real fantasy headline, though Phil Bardsley’s sending off provided some managers with a cause for concern.

MOTM: Ryan Taylor- Goal, clean sheet, great value for money.
FOTM: Phil Bardsley- Easy, a sending off and no clean sheet.

Swansea 0-0 Wigan- Defenses on top here, as two sides who like to move the ball on the floor played out a 0-0 draw.

Missing a penalty, Ben Watson emerges as the game’s one loser, while the defensive ability demonstrated by both back fours makes for some uncharacteristically high point scorers.

MOTM: Michel Vorm- Clean sheet and a penalty save – was impressive against Manchester City too.
FOTM: Ben Watson- A penalty miss.

INFTH Book Review: Barca into the heart of the World’s most politicized club, Barca is a book which epitomizes the essence of Barcelona. The outward, external beauty of the writing, representative of the aesthetically pleasing play of its subject, complements a harder, deeper political core, expertly analyzed by possibly the English language’s leading Barcelona expert – Jimmy Burns.

Burns explains in the beginning of the book why he supports Barcelona. Born in Madrid in 1953, it was not the footballing significance of Barca which drew him, rather the political outlook of the club – an oasis of democracy in a desert of Francoist repression. This initial theme, hinted at throughout the introduction (only present in the updated, 2009 version) comes to define the beauty of Burns’ book – not only does he expertly explain the football, he successfully conveys the political underpinnings which, in many ways, came to overshadow Barcelona as a football club.

Unlike books such as Calcio or Forza Italia, Jimmy Burns’ work is neither an encyclopedia nor a memoir, merely a carefully put together history of a club, from its beginnings in the early 1900s, to its globalized late twentieth century self.

The political aspect of Barca is an ever present, dogging the narrative much in the way that it dogged Barcelona throughout their existence, especially during the Franco years.

Started by a Swiss immigrant, Joan Gamper, as well as a family of Englishman living in the city, Barcelona’s humble beginnings soon were to be eclipsed as the club fast became a symbol of Catalan identity, a provider of accommodation for misfit foreigners, and hope to rebellious, anti Franco Catalans.

Important in Barca’s story, is the club’s relationship with Real Madrid – the paranoia which haunted fans and officals’ relationship with Real throughout the Franco years is an important theme of their history. Matches with Real Madrid are always far from ordinary, a truth no better embodied than by a quote used in the book’s opening chapter, taken from a cule (Barcelona’s band of ultra like fans) ahead of a match against the Merengues. “These aren’t two clubs. They’re two nations, two people, two religions.”

The precise, poignancy of the line is typical of the book as a whole, all of Burns’ most complex and interesting theses are eloquently summed up, either in the words of the writer or, as demonstrated by the above sentence, the speech of someone else.

The politics of Catalonia are forever intertwined with the politics of FC Barcelona, a relationship which Burns manages to explain in an efficient and effective style. He tells of Jordi Pujol, the leader of an extreme group of Catalan nationalists, and the way that his movement revitalized the notion of separatism inside the club, as well as the symbolic, political gestures of Johan Cruyff, headlined by his decision to name his son after the extremist politician. To any interested political observer, all this is fascinating content, delivered in an exciting, page turning style rather than the torrid, unreadable one so prevalent in modern political coverage.

Oh, and the football isn’t bad either. Derived mostly from first person accounts of games, often by the writer himself, the breadth of Burns’ footballing knowledge is equal to that of his politics. Vivid descriptions of games, goals and celebrations help to bring legends of the past alive – for all the mention of Franco, Pujol and Nunez (a controversial Barca president, touched upon throughout) it is characters like Kubala, Maradona and Ronaldo that make the book so wonderful.

Quite possibly, Barca is the best book of its kind, the finest ever history of a solitary football club. The depth of the research is incredible, the poignancy of the interviews terrific, two aspects bound together by writing of the highest quality. It is unmissable; a breathtaking read.

Read more INFTH book reviews.
Buy Barca on Amazon.

Fantasy Guide: Second Edition- Manchester United’s Defensive Crisis this week, I wrote about United’s unfortunate disposal of John O’Shea. Now, it’s time to run the rule over the replacements…

Manchester United’s Defensive Crisis
While United fans mourned as Vidic and Ferdinand limped off the pitch last Sunday, the fantasy managers among us perked their ears and began to smile. All of a sudden, a plethora of possibilities revealed themselves – opportunities to steal a march on rivals over the next few weeks.
What with free, unlimited transfers this week after technical failures marred the season’s fantasy preparations, an influx of cheap Manchester United defenders looks highly feasible business. Ferguson has already announced his back four for Monday, one with an exceptionally British feel – Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Patrice Evra will all start.
Smalling and Jones are both priced at under six million, but the real steal here could be 4.5 million pound man Jonny Evans. After enduring a tough time of it last campaign, the Irish international impressed in United’s opening two games and has yet to concede a goal this season. Don’t worry, your attraction to Evans will not result in a bloody death at the hands of mythological monsters… (he’s not just a cheap version of Didier Drogba).

INFTH Premier League Predictions

Sunderland vs Newcastle- It’s strange to have such a massive game take place so early on, neither side has really had time to develop an identity this season after a host of transfers over the summer.

Last week, Newcastle’s match was overshadowed by unfortunate events involving Joey Barton, but that controversy shouldn’t effect them on Saturday. From a footballing perspective, they were quite impressive against Arsenal, the defense was solid, and new signing Yohan Cabaye looked good in midfield.

Sunderland were delighted with the point they took home from Anfield last week, but this time, Steve Bruce will be demanding a win. Sebastian Larrson was the goalscorer against Liverpool, so don’t be surprised if a few other new signings open their accounts tomorrow.

Prediction: 3-1

Arsenal vs Liverpool- It has been an extremely difficult week for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal; drawing with Newcastle, losing Fabregas and then only barely scraping past Udinese in a Champions League qualifier.

If there is ever a good time to play away at The Emirates, it is now, and Kenny Dalglish will demand that his players sieze the opportunity. Luis Suarez looked good in flashes against Sunderland, and it is his form which is likely to decide whether or not Liverpool qualify for top level European competition next season.

I’m going to sit on the fence here and go with a score draw, as I don’t see either side as ready to take the initiative and grind out a big win.

Prediction: 2-2

Aston Villa vs Blackburn- There is a lot of pressure on Blackburn at the moment, and in particular Steve Kean. The furor over his introduction last season has only heightened after an opening day defeat to Wolves, and if Rovers walk away empty handed once again, then calls for the sack will start to be made.

Villa look to have done some solid business in the off season, signing a really top class goalkeeper in Shay Given, as well as purchasing the mercurial Charles N’Zogbia. Up front too, Darren Bent’s  presence will guarantee goals, as he looks to benefit from the play of striker come winger Gabriel Agbonlahor.

I really can’t see past a Villa victory here, at home they will be fired up and ready to go, while Blackburn are in an absolute shambles.

Prediction: 2-0

Everton vs QPR- After a harrowing opening day loss to Bolton, a trip to Goodison Park wasn’t the antidote Neil Warnock had in mind. Everton are keen to start the new season with a bang, hoping to diverge from a pattern which has seen them too often flounder over the first month of campaigns past.

Despite no notable transfer business, the Toffees have some really good players in their squad, men like Leighton Baines, Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill. Striker Jermain Beckford too, will be eying a starting role, he was the subject of a bid by Leicester City midweek but will want to prove that the Premier League is where he belongs.

Prediction: 2-1

Swansea vs Wigan- Despite losing 4-0, Swansea were actually quite impressive on Monday night. They passed the ball well, dominating possession for the opening periods before Manchester City started to get a grip on the game.

Wigan too are a team keen to keep the ball on the floor, headed by the same manager who brought attractive play to Swansea several seasons back. Since then, the Welsh side have added some top quality personnel, players like former Chelsea winger Scott Sinclair and seasoned lower league striker Danny Graham. Those two will be expected to carry much of the attacking burden, and both should fancy their chances against a highly porous Wigan rearguard.

Prediction: 2-2

Chelsea vs WBA- As I pointed out in the first edition of our fantasy guide, Chelsea’s line-up will be very difficult to predict. Up front they have a plethora of options, though Andre Villas Boas’ preferred formation only allows for one of Chelsea’s six strikers to play centrally.

West Brom were unlucky not to take a point away from their meeting with Manchester United last Sunday, and should come into this game confident that they can mix it with the big boys.

Nevertheless, Chelsea are huge favorites to win.

Prediction: 2-0

Norwich vs Stoke City- It is always difficult to play a newly promoted team on the occasion of their home opener (of course, unless they’re QPR) and the job will be made that much more difficult for Stoke as they played away in Europe mid week.

Norwich boss Paul Lambert was happy to take a draw back from the DW on opening day, but will be disappointed if his side fails to claim the maximum haul here. It is vital for newly promoted sides to win their home games – in the end, it was a lack of quality at Bloomfield Road which consigned Blackpool to the drop last year.

Prediction: 2-1

Wolves vs Fulham- Wolves have confidence coursing through their veins at the moment, and I have a feeling that this season McCarthy’s side might push on into the top half. Their win away at Blackburn provided a huge fillip for all involved at the club, and fans will expect more of the same on Sunday.

Fulham come into this match on the back of a comfortable Europe League win, an evening not taxing enough to make a noticeable impact on their performance here. As ever, they will be solid at the back, but it is the form of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson up front which will decide their fate this season.

Prediction: 2-1

Bolton vs Manchester City- Manchester City and in particular Sergio Aguero were the best footballing story to come out of last weekend’s games. In the second half, City looked really impressive; fluid and penetrative up front and miserly at the back.

Bolton however, were equally effective, triumphing comfortably away at Queens Park Rangers. Croatian striker Ivan Klasnic came out of that game with a goal and an assist – whether or not he successfully fills in for Johan Elmander could decide Bolton’s final placing.

Prediction: 1-3

Manchester United vs Tottenham- Tottenham may have looked like the English version of Barcelona on Thursday night, but they will find an away trip to Manchester United somewhat tougher than their joust with the SPL’s third best team.

With no disrespect to the Scottish side, they are Championship quality if that, and really, Spurs fans gained no useful insight from yesterday’s game.

When on form, Tottenham can be a really dangerous outfit, but too often last season they lacked a cutting edge up front. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart are all terrific creators, but without a striker on form their good work is wasted. Harry Redknapp has already gone out of his way to play up Jermain Defoe’s chances this season, and if the striker can stay fit then Spurs will be right in the middle of a fourth place tussle.

Despite their defensive crisis, I see United as comfortable winners on Monday night.

Prediction: 3-1

Feel free to comment with your predictions…

Fantasy Guide: First Edition- Chelsea’s Striking Muddle new series launches today, the INFTH fantasy guide, a tool intended to help managers throughout the season…

A quick recovery proved my bane last weekend. Counting on Fernando Torres’ concussion to result in a sustained absence, I was full of confidence when selecting Didier Drogba as my captain. In his pre match press conference though, Andre Villas Boas announced that the Spaniard was likely to play. All I had to do was make a quick switch, removing the captaincy from a Drogba – now only fifty-fifty starter. Cue, major site crash and a disastrous week for my team. On reflection though, I never should have signed Drogba in the first place…

Chelsea’s Striking Muddle

The Chelsea trap is one that many managers are likely to fall into this season, a dark hole of almost irresistible suction, strong enough to fool the best (ie me). The names are attractive – Saloman Kalou, Fernando Torres, Nicolas Anelka, Daniel Sturridge, Didier Drogba and Romelu Lukaku all have quite a lot about them, proven goal scorers or promising young guns who should be playing ninety minutes of Premier League football every weekend. However, the formation which Andre Villas Boas seems set to use – one that has been the hallmark of Chelsea since the Mourinho years – does not cater to such an embarrassment of riches.

While a few of the six named (Anelka, Kalou, Sturridge) are accustomed to playing in one of the outside positions made available in a 4-3-3, the central striking area remains one with no permanent occupant. Last season, it was definitively proven that Drogba and Torres cannot play in the same team together – either Torres was played out of position or, when switched to 4-4-2, no cohesive relationship materialized – meaning that one or the other will end up benched. Now with Lukaku added into the mix, competition for places may border on the frantic, with mass rotation (the enemy of all fantasy managers) a likely result.

Front men about to play West Brom at home tend to emit a Siren like song in the weeks preceding match day – it will be interesting to see what Drogba’s singing voice is like. I’m no Odysseus, but putting wax in your ears might be a good idea.

Enjoy more of our fantasy content.

Blackburn Must Understand Their Place In The Pantheon prospect of post-Jack Walker success, promised by a couple chicken farmers from Pune, seems to be fast receding.

 It was with a degree of amusement that football fans the world over viewed yesterday’s headline gossip. Like when the scrawny kid with premature pimples valiantly attempts to share the bully’s swing set, Blackburn’s move for Raul seems both audacious and daft. 

The Ewood Park faithful are accustomed to good strikers, Alan Shearer and the pre Manchester City version of Roque Santa Cruz are both cast from a high quality footballing mold; it takes more than a penchant for pottery though, to lure players like Raul. 

The partially informed football fan, and Venkys only barely scrape into that category, might point to the Spaniard’s willingness to sacrifice the glamor of Madrid for the grit of Gelsenkirchen, as reason for hopefulness. But like that pimpled boy who suddenly finds more than just his loose teeth are missing, there was never any way Blackburn would be allowed to swing.

Upon submitting a bid for Raul, only embarrassment was in store for Rovers, a club whose personal reflection seems to have been airbrushed by the gods of hubris. 

Like Raul, last January Ronaldinho’s samba drum wasn’t willing to join up with Rovers’ marching band, one led by a drunkard who is tooting his club’s horn a little too loudly.

“The owners and the fans should be excited about what we’re doing here.” said Kean last month. “Trying to deliver European football in three or four years for this club is achievable. We’re not going to say we’ll get it next year but, if we can get a foothold in the top half of the table, that’s a realistic goal.”

Just an attempt to butter up to his bosses, perhaps with a free bucket of chicken nuggets in mind, or maybe the after effects of another night of shameless drinking, whatever the cause, the result was stupefyingly ludicrous. In an occupation which has driven some to stress born illness, Kean’s cocky attitude undermines the fight that he and his team are set to partake in. 

In the battle for the drop, even the arrogant eventually meet their match, and while Rovers have won more Premier League titles than both Leeds and Newcastle, the fate which befell them remains a more likely proposition than European qualification in four years time.

The ‘project’ under construction at Ewood Park is fast becoming the laughing stock of the league, resembling more the lazy, sloppy work of a kindergartner, than the fine architectural craftsmanship of a fellow kindergartner’s unscrupulous parents.

Blackburn’s search for “a name” is almost depressingly desperate, you get the feeling that even a crocked and overweight Ronaldo would be valued more than a potentially available marksman like Robbie Keane or Peter Crouch. 

An ownership duo that knows little about football, presiding over a manager who seems increasingly to be equally ignorant, was a combination always set to roll towards disaster, though the scale of Rovers’ inevitable fall has yet to be gauged. The failed pursuit of Raul has poured more shame on a once humble and hard working club, one who knew what it was like to be the City of their day, yet remained stoic and resolute in the face of a new era of financial madness. 

The path to comfortable mid table status was nearly completely paved at the time of Venkys arrival last season, only for the Indians to quickly purge the club of their chief bricklayer. The decision to sack Sam Allardyce has resulted in consequences that even a credibility seeking clairvoyant wouldn’t boasted of seeing; what was startlingly obvious to us never reached the minds of India’s finest chicken salesman though.

A trail of broken promises is destined to replace Blackburn’s once healthy road to survival – negligent owners have forced the 1994 Premier League champions to the brink of catastrophe. Unattainable targets remain the focus of Venkys’ attention, after all, David Beckham’s face on a parcel of chicken is so much more appealing than Peter Crouch’s.

The vehicle for self promotion which Blackburn Rovers has fast become is veering towards a crash, and in the drivers seat is Steve Kean, probably with a flask of whiskey in his hand. He and his owners are distracting themselves with visions of the future, attempting to sign players that would only consider Ewood Park if that unrealistic four year plan was already achieved. 

All the while, the drop looms closer, and as key squad members prepare for departure, their potential replacements remain the subject of only a drunkard’s fantasy.

John O’Shea: I Miss You Already asked by a popular forum, which player I would most like to fill all eleven places in a hypothetical dream team, the answer was simple: John O’Shea. The man is a genius, though not in the mold of Ronaldo or Messi, rather in a more homey, comforting way. His versatility is unique in its broadness, his touch underrated and his work ethic admirable. He used to play for my favorite football club.

When John O’Shea signed for Sunderland in July, I shed many tears. The Irishman holds a rightful place in the pantheon of great Manchester United moments – his last minute winner at Anfield prominent, as well as that gorgeous chip at Highbury. More emblematic though, of the John O’Shea who most fans know is a five minute cameo at White Hart Lane, when O’Shea finally completed the collection; left back, right back, center half, and then, at last, a place between the sticks.

Not many remember what happened after that, but I do. I remember him, denying Robbie Keane with his legs, and then, in the post match interview, claiming the clean sheet for his own. Even the fact that we were 4-0 up at the time doesn’t detract from my memory, though in all honesty, nothing could. That night at the Lane epitomized John O’Shea, the John O’Shea that Manchester United are in need of after Sunday’s injury fiasco.

Mind you, we’ve been through this before. Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra playing center half in 2009, Rio Ferdinand an ever present at left Twitter in the stands, and Tomasz Kuszczack, doing his level best to kill off those of us with weak, calorie bloated hearts.

Even during those most unfortunate times though, we always had good old John O’Shea. O’Shea, who played in central midfield against Arsenal last season, O’Shea who looks set to languish in the Stadium of Light’s perpetual squalor for the remainder of his career.

While the retirements of Neville, Scholes and Van Der Sar dominated the summer’s footballing obituaries, it was O’Shea’s decision to leave which will cost us the most; the departure of a man who has at one point or another filled in for all three of those legendary ex players.

Now, at our time of need, with three of the starting back four out injured, there is no great big, almost huggable Irishman to bail us out. No bastion of versatility so able and willing as John Francis O’Shea. Unlike other defenders, his positional listing on Wikipedia bares no specific information. After “position” reads “defender.” Really though, it should simply say “player.”

Life without O’Shea is a strange and vexing proposition. It is one that has lurked, slyly in the darkest depths of my sleep, attempting to penetrate my sheep ridden mathematics with dastardly nightmares. Here though, in the rough and tumble world of Premiership football, there is no alarm clock to end the terror. The legend that is John O’Shea has departed Old Trafford for good, and only now are United starting to suffer from the terrible consequences.

While watching David De Gea’s sloth like dive and Shane Long’s trickling shot, that memory of White Hart Lane returned to me. It would be hyperbole to imply that John O’Shea might make a more fitting replacement for Van Der Sar than Atletico Madrid’s Europa League winning number one, but it would be a lie to claim that no such switch crossed my mind.

The clouds prowling above The Hawthornes on Sunday evening seemed darker than normal. A win had been well and truly tainted, what should have been joyous post match celebrations tempered. Despite the presence of fairly adequate replacement on the bench, O’Shea’s shadow darkened my mood.

There was one ray of light though, for another Irishman happened to be on form for United against the Baggies. O’Shea remains a legend, but he may well eventually be usurped by international forward and goalscoring legend, O’Gee.