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IN AUGUST 2006, after a wonderful performance at White Hart Lane inspired a 10-man Everton FC to victory over Spurs, David Moyes urged England boss Steve McClaren to have a closer look at the form of young midfielder Leon Osman, who was enjoying a storming start to a Premier League season.
For whatever reason, McClaren chose not to add Leon Osman to his international set-ups.
And since then Fabio Capello and Stuart Pearce also overlooked the claims of the Everton midfielder.
But yesterday Osman enjoyed his first training session with a senior England squad – and admitted he never gave up hope that the call his club boss predicted six years ago would eventually come.
“I hoped the chance of playing international football hadn’t passed me by,” he said. “I always said I would never give up hope and as an English lad you are dying to play for your country.
“I was still hopeful but I had stopped worrying if it would happen. I’ve developed late in my career but it’s great to be here and I’m hoping to get a cap.
“That’s the way it starts, but the character I am I know that once I have got one cap I’ll want two caps, and if I win two then I’ll want four caps and so on. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to do that.”
And while Osman is aiming to win his first cap against Sweden tomorrow, he hopes Mersey rivals Steven Gerrard can overcome a knee knock to join England’s exclusive 100 club.
Providing a precautionary scan on the bang on the knee he sustained during Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Sunday comes back clear as expected, Gerrard will become the sixth Englishman to reach a century of caps in tomorrow’s friendly in Stockholm.
It will allow the 32-year-old to join Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright in the pantheon of great players.
Such recognition seems far removed from junior football days, where Osman first came across Gerrard almost two decades ago. But even then, Gerrard was a bit special.
And Osman feels this latest honour is richly deserved.
“It is fantastic to get to 100 caps,” said the Everton midfielder. “There is only a select band that has managed to do it and Steven deserves to be in that crew. He is a fantastic player and a leader of men.
“We first played against each other on Merseyside when we were 12 or 13. To see him now get to his 100th cap is fantastic but not surprising.”
Until they met up in Manchester earlier yesterday, Osman’s assessment of Gerrard’s qualities has come exclusively from being on the opposing team.
Daniel Sturridge has benefited from being in the same camps as Gerrard and has profited personally from his vast experience.
“Steven has been fantastic with me when he has been involved in the squads,” said the Chelsea forward.
“If you ask any midfielder he has played against, they will say he is a great player. Some of the best players who have ever been have said it. Hopefully he will be running out on the field and picking up his 100th on Wednesday.”
At this stage it is still a hope rather than a certainty.
However, Gerrard’s relaxed demeanour in the England hotel yesterday suggested there is not too much to worry about.
Funnily enough, the same could be said of Osman, even though, at 31, he must make the most of his belated first call-up.
A contemporary of Joe Cole at England Under-15 level, Osman’s career has largely gone under the national radar.
But with the Blues currently fourth in the table after a superb start to the season, Roy Hodgson has decided it is time to look at a player who has made over 300 appearances for his only professional club.
“I hope I can be an inspiration,” he said. “It just shows if you keep believing, concentrate on your form and make sure that is good, you may one day get recognised.”
Osman’s selection has earned comparisons with that of Scott Parker, who four-and-a-half years after winning his third cap, was handed a fourth in February 2011 and went on to become an integral figure in Fabio Capello’s Euro 2012 squad.
“Scott broke into the squad really early,” said Osman. “When he got back in later on he was a lot more experienced and mature football-wise and was able to show that on the pitch. I seem to have developed late in the game as well.
“I didn’t make my debut until I was 21 and didn’t stay in the first team until I was 23, so to make a late arrival here doesn’t actually surprise me.”
Osman still has a bit of work to do though, because in a squad reduced to 21 by the five withdrawals over the weekend, central midfield remains heavily congested.
Presuming Gerrard will start and Jack Wilshere will be involved for at least part of the game, Osman is battling against Tom Cleverley and Tom Huddlestone, one of three players called up late on Sunday night.
NIKICA JELAVIC hopes that Saturday’s timely matchwinner has opened the floodgates to another goal rush for Everton FC.
After opening his Everton goals account against Spurs last season, the Croatian hit the ground running with a quickfire 10 goals in his next 12 starts. Despite still registering almost a goal every other game this season, Jelavic hasn’t been quite as prolific – having gone three games without a goal before Saturday.
But he hopes that the clinically converted finish from Marouane Fellaini’s flick will now spark another flood of goals.
“For a striker it is always important to score for confidence and for the fans and the team as well, so I hope I can score many for them.
“Obviously I am pleased to score but the most important thing was the three points. It was a tough game, with them scoring in the last minute of the first half.
“We were better in the second half and scored two quick goals so in the end I think we deserved the victory.”
Jelavic (left) has scored 16 goals in 23 starts since arriving from Rangers in January.
SEAMUS COLEMAN is aiming to stay back for the future – after his longest run of starts in his favoured right-back role since he made his Everton FC debut.
Against Sunderland on Saturday, Coleman featured at full-back for the eighth successive match. And after two seasons spent largely in midfield, it’s a role he’d like to make his own.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s been a while really since I’ve played there for Everton. The last time I had a run of games there was probably when I was at Blackpool (on-loan) but I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I need to keep doing well because there’s some good players who’ll be wanting to come in. It’s different to playing in midfield, but I’ve always said it’s my natural position.”
Tony Hibbert has been struggling with injury this season, while Phil Neville has been asked to play in central midfield.
Coleman hopes to play at right-back again for Ireland against Greece tomorrow night.
He said: “It’s a big game for players like myself who need to do well.”
FORMER Everton record signing James Beattie has signed a short-term deal at Accrington Stanley.
Beattie, who signed for the Blues from Southampton for £6m in January 2005, scored 15 goals in 85 appearances before joining Sheffield United in 2007.
Since then he has featured for Stoke, Rangers and Blackpool, but has been a free agent since his second spell at Bramall Lane ended in the summer.
He has moved to the Lancashire club as player-coach.
Beattie’s former Blackburn team-mate, Leam Richardson, is Accrington boss and said: “It’s massive for the club and for myself.
“First and foremost he’s a quality player. He’s 34 but he still thinks he’s 24 and he’s already talked about scoring goals.
“I had a couple of nice conversations with him over a cup of a coffee and it was evident that it could be a good move for both parties.
“We’ve had a good relationship since our Blackburn days.
“Being a coach as well will be a nice role for him to pass his experience on to the young lads here.”
“I’m delighted to be here,” said Beattie (below).
“The coaching role has put another angle on things for me but I’ve signed a playing contract so I want to get involved in that as soon as possible.
“If there’s anything I can lend to Leam and the coaching staff here then that’ll be great.”
Chief executive Rob Heys said: He will be great for Accrington Stanley.”
The first Leon Osman knew of it was when David Moyes got all his players together in a circle at the end of training. Standing there, on the windswept pitches at Everton's practice ground, Osman found himself wondering why there were so many members of staff loitering round the edges. People, he now recollects, who would not usually be involved in these kind of huddles.
"It was then the manager announced it," he recalls. "He said I was in the England squad and all the members of staff were cheering. It was a great moment. Head-ruffles, a few kidney punches; all the other childish stuff that comes with it."
He had waited a long time to hear those words and, at 31, it is fair to say he had started to think the opportunity would never come. "I've never given up," he says, but it is also true that he had not given any prior thought to the idea of being included in Roy Hodgson's squad for Wednesday's friendly against Sweden.
That night, digesting the news, it was a proud father who broke the news to his seven-year-old son, Cole. "He'd been out on a school trip and when he got back I sat him down and put Sky Sports News on. The squad flashed up and there was a confused look on his face. I said: 'That's my name, you know.' And when he realised he was made up. I'm sure he'll be allowed to stay up late to watch the game."
He is talking at the end of his first training session, boyishly excited to be wearing the England kit. Osman is unlike many new call-ups in the sense he does not project any nerves or apprehension. It helps that his Everton team-mates Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka are in the squad.
Steven Gerrard was one of the first players to greet him. "We've played against each other since we were young kids for Liverpool and Everton," Osman says. "It's difficult to play against him; it will be a delight to play with him."
Plus the benefits of being Osman's age mean he has a seasoned view of what to expect. "I came into first-team football late," he explains. "My development has been late. I made my debut at 21, became a first-team regular at 23. Now here I am getting into my first England squad at 31. I think I'm mature now. I've got the football experience. It's certainly brought my game on and hopefully it will enable me to develop at this level."
That is the key for Osman now. Kevin Davies never played for England again after his one cap, against Montenegro in 2010, at the age of 33. Chris Powell, who was 31 when he made his debut in 2001, did make it to five caps. Kevin Richardson, in 1994, didn't. Steve Bould, another 31-year-old, got two.
Osman knows age and history are against him. "If it's a one-off that's great but, the character I am, if get in the squad, I want a cap. And if I get one cap I'll want two caps. And so on. I don't think I'll ever settle for anything but if it does turn out to be only one I'll still be delighted."
He is, after all, a surprise selection. "It was something I'd stopped worrying about. Possibly a number of years ago [I thought I could get in] but things didn't work out. I hoped my time hadn't passed me by. I always said I would never give up hope but I had stopped looking for my name in the squad."
Hodgson had been impressed by Osman's performances from his time as Fulham manager. "He told me he had admired me for a few years and thought it was time to get me into the squad," Osman says of their first conversation. "I'm delighted he has done that and my form has been right for him to do that."
Usually, he points out, these international weeks tend to drag. "There's normally four or five of us who are left behind at Everton – me, Phil Neville, Sylvain Distin, Tony Hibbert, and Steven Pienaar has retired from international football now. There's not much you can do apart from running. I'm a lot happier to be here, I can tell you. I hope they are missing me."
Gordon Strachan remains the bookmakers' favourite to replace Craig Levein as Scotland manager but Graeme Souness, a failed candidate in 2008, on Monday nominated another Tartan Army icon, Joe Jordan, to succeed him.
One man who has barely rated a mention as a potential replacement, however, is Billy Stark, the man who will take charge of the team in Luxembourg's Stade Josy Barthel on Wednesday night.
The Scotland Under-21 coach was asked to act as interim manager following Levein's removal last week but Everton midfielder Steven Naismith, one of seven players in the 18-man squad travelling to the grand duchy to have played under Stark, believes that he is a credible contender for the post.
“I worked with Billy with the Under-21s and he was a really good manager for me,” he said. “Apart from anything else, this is a chance for him to show his managerial skills.
“It’s a difficult situation to be in, with the squad meeting up for such a short period of time, but if we go out and put in a good performance and win comfortably then it boosts his stature as a manager.
“Although he maybe hasn’t been talked about a lot, I’m sure the people that make the decision will need to think about him.
“There has been a progression in terms of what’s happening at Under-21 level. We have pushed further and further forward under his leadership. That is definitely going to go in his favour.
“When I was in the Under-21s, the biggest thing for me was that he treated you like a professional footballer and a man. He didn’t talk down to you as if you were a young boy or anything like that.
“Billy was a great player in his day and has managed in the SPL. He has a lot of experience. From working with him, I would say his man-management and the way he treated you were the things I took away from it.
“I think he's helped Under-21 players [take the next step]. When guys come into the squad now they are probably a bit more confident than I was.
“That’s down to how Billy treats them. He gets players into the right mould of how you should act, how you should be on the training pitch and how you should prepare for matches.”
Naismith was an armchair spectator for the defeats in Wales and Belgium which signalled the end of Scotland's hopes of reaching the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil just four matches into the campaign. However, it never occurred to him that that failure would cost Levein his job.
“To be honest, I didn’t,” he said. “I knew there was going to be a lot of criticism – not just for the manager but for the squad in general.
“I know it’s been said that the squad we have should have been doing better and there is no getting away from that fact – we should have. In the first two home games we played well but didn’t take our chances. That has ultimately cost us.
“It’s very disappointing but these things happen in football. I think Craig would have known that he's going to be criticised and have questions to answer. I'm sure he has been through it before and will move on.
“But I haven't got a bad word to say about him. He was great for me and gave me my chance at international level. I respected him a lot as a manager.”
Leon Osman has looked on from afar, noting England’s flaws, railing at the television screen in frustration like the rest of the country as possession is squandered, as the years of hurt lengthen like reproachful shadows. Unlike the rest of the country, the Everton midfielder has a chance of confronting England’s woes.
In terms of international rescue, England still need more than a 31-year-old uncapped midfielder with a sensible approach to keeping the ball. England need a collection of mentally tough, physically strong, technically talented, tactically aware individuals. Like Osman’s moustache, Roy Hodgson’s England remain a work in progress.
Yet Hodgson’s decision to include Osman in the squad flying to Stockholm on Tuesday reflects the manager’s desire to promote those who cherish the ball’s company. Although instinctively respectful of his new colleagues, Osman still voices his annoyance at past England viewing.
“I’m usually screaming at the telly with my scarf in my hand,’’ Osman reflected yesterday, relaxing after training at England’s Salford retreat. “We don’t seem to gel properly. We have moments when we play fantastically well and others where we haven’t. That’s why getting the opportunity to get your squad together and get closer is vital.”
That is what Hodgson is using these precious few days for, bonding the squad, assessing new talents – Osman, Sterling, Zaha – and reminding his players of the importance of possession.
“Maybe that’s what the manager is looking for, to keep the ball for longer periods,’’ continued Osman. “I’m delighted that I might get the opportunity to do that. He said he had admired me for a few years and thought it was time to get me into the squad. I’m delighted he has done that and that my form has been right for him to do that.”
Osman could partner Steven Gerrard and Tom Cleverley in midfield, possibly with Jack Wilshere featuring after the break. Just the mention of Gerrard made Osman nod in appreciation.
“Making his 100th cap is a great achievement,’’ said Osman of Gerrard. “We’ve played against each other since we were young kids for Liverpool and Everton. Our families don’t mix but we’ve known each other for a long time. I know the qualities he brings to the game: determination, desire to win, passing. It’s difficult to play against him. It’ll be a delight to play with him I’m sure. He just welcomed me into the squad and said 'congratulations’.’’
Gerrard was not alone. “We trained as normal at Everton last Thursday,’’ recalled a smiling Osman, “and David Moyes got the lads together after the session was coming to an end. There seemed to be a lot more staff around the edge of the pitch than usual. He said that I was in the squad. There were head ruffles and a few kidney punches and other childish stuff. All the members of staff were cheering from the sideline. It was a great moment.”
The great moments continued. When Osman returned home from Finch Farm, he waited for his seven-year-old football-daft son Cole. He was desperate to tell him daddy’s big news. “He’d been out on a school trip and I sat him down. I actually put Sky Sports News on for him. He had a confused look on his face. I said, 'That’s our name, you know’. And when he realised he was made up.” And if dad starts? “I’m sure he’ll be allowed to stay up late!
“My kids, Cole and Deacon, are old enough now to appreciate their football. I’m more relaxed than my seven year-old. He is right next to the telly trying to head them in!”
Osman has attended a couple of England internationals in the flesh. “I went to watch a couple of games late Nineties. I went to one when Wembley first reopened in 2007. But with the games being at Wembley and us being up north and with the family, I tend to watch them on the telly.”
Osman was linked with representing other countries. “I’m an English lad. I’m not Turkish, I’m not Cypriot. I’d like to point that out. It’s fantastic to be here. If it’s a one-off that’s great but being the character I am I know that if I get one cap I’ll want two. My development has been late. I made my debut at 21, became a first-team regular at 23. But I’m mature now and have the football experience.”
Like Scott Parker, a late developer with England. “I played with Scott when we were kids,’’ continued Osman. “When he was first on the scene he was a great player and when he came back he was mature, knowing when to do his job and when to stand off. He’s been quality.’’
Osman briefly considered life back at Finch Farm this international week. “There’s usually four or five of us left behind there – me, Phil Neville, Sylvain Distain, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar. It’s usually running. I’m a lot happier to be here I can tell you. I’m sure they will miss me to be honest. I’m the lively one.” Everton’s temporary loss is England’s gain.
LEON OSMAN had benefited from time to digest the news himself and even recover from the playful “kidney punches” meted out by his ecstatic Everton team-mates.
But when it came to informing his young son of his elevation to the England squad he stepped aside and watched realisation dawn in HD.
Cole Osman, aged seven, arrived home from school last Thursday and was promptly ushered into the front room and left to track the yellow ticker flitting across the bottom of the TV screen.
“It was a great moment,” said Osman. “He had been out on a school trip and I sat him down and put Sky Sports News on for him.
“He had a confused look on his face. I said, ‘That’s our name, you know’. And when he realised, he was made up. I’m sure he’ll be allowed to stay up late and watch the game.”
Somehow it feels appropriate that Osman – whose other son, Deacon, will also push his scheduled bedtime back for tomorrow’s friendly against Sweden – selected an independent source to relay his call-up.
His is, after all, a surprise selection, the assumption being that, at the age of 31, his time for national service had long gone and his memories of England restricted to playing with Joe Cole and Stephen Warnock for the Under-15s.
The emphasis has shifted to youth of late for England as the presence of Wilfried Zaha, 20, and Raheem Sterling, 17, at the team hotel in Manchester yesterday ahead of today’s trip to Stockholm testified. Osman finds himself cast in the role of the experienced rookie.
There is no doubting his form for Everton merits recognition and coach Roy Hodgson’s willingness to try out new faces has seen 48 different players selected in squads during a reign which still spans only 12 games.
The move away from a closed shop felt refreshing, but also now random given the number of players being road-tested and poses the question of what Osman can hope to get from this opportunity.
Will his experience be similar to that of Jake Livermore, who played 21 minutes against Italy in August, neither long enough to convince nor disappoint, but who has not been seen since? Likewise Jordan Henderson, whose 38 minutes spread over high-octane games against France and Italy at Euro 2012 has not been a launch-pad.
Or does Hodgson have a specific plan in mind for the home-grown Everton star with which he is ready to persist? Does he see Osman perhaps as a player to help England keep the ball in midfield?
“There has certainly been quite a change of personnel since the new manager came in,” said Osman. “He seems to be looking around at players, which from those players’ point of view is great. And from the point of view of the England squad, it keeps you on your toes a bit more.
“It’s fantastic to be here. If it’s a one-off, that’s great. But being the character I am, I know that I would want to be recognised and then get in the squad.
“And if I get in the squad, I want a cap. And if I get one cap, I’ll want two caps. And if I get two, I’ll want four.
“I hope I can be an inspiration. It just shows if you keep believing, focus on your form and make sure that is good, you may one day get recognised.
“Maybe the manager is looking to keep the ball for longer periods. You’ll have to ask him, but I’m delighted that I might get the chance to do that.
“I wouldn’t say that England was ever off the radar as I am an English lad and the pinnacle is to play for your country. But it was something I was not worrying about. There were head ruffles and a few kidney punches and other child stuff that comes with it when the manager [David Moyes] said I was in the squad. All the members of staff were cheering from the sidelines.”
Among them was Everton team-mate Leighton Baines, who has made the most of his ever-increasing opportunities and is well placed to give an insight into Osman.
“Some people will be wondering why he has been called up, but he is a footballer’s footballer,” said the left-back.
“He is so skilful and his passing is brilliant. He has got goals in him too. He has definitely got the talent to stay in the squad and won’t look out of place.
“He doesn’t get a lot of headlines but footballers and people within the game appreciate the role he plays and the things he does for our team.”
International week usually sees Osman watching the tumbleweed blow through Everton’s Finch Farm training HQ, with only Phil Neville, Sylvain Distain, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar, fresh from his international retirement with South Africa, for company. “There’s not much you can do. It’s usually running,” said Osman.
He hopes the hard yards will this time be played out in Stockholm.
Leon Osman normally spends international week trying to cheer up Everton’s version of the grumpy old men.
‘There’s usually four or five of us left behind,’ said Osman. ‘There’s me, Phil Neville, Sylvain Distin, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar, now he’s retired from international football.
‘There’s not much you can do. It’s usually running. I’m a lot happier to be here, I can tell you. I’m sure they’ll miss me. I’m the lively one.’
On Wednesday Osman will be in Sweden with England, sporting an impressive moustache as he raises money for the ever-popular Movember appeal.
Called into the senior team for the first time at the age of 31, and it was a popular choice by Roy Hodgson.
'We were out on the training pitch when I saw more staff than usual by the side of the pitch,' said Osman. 'I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Then the manager called us together in a circle and announced I was in the squad.
'There was a lot of hair ruffling and kidney punching and the child-like stuff that comes with it. All the staff were cheering. It was a great moment.'
Osman went home and put on Sky Sports News, sat his sons Cole and Deacon in front of the screen and watched as his eldest Cole, aged seven, worked it out. ‘It was a great moment,’ said Osman.
‘There was a confused look on his face and I said, “That’s our name, you know”. When he realised, he was made up. I’m sure he’ll be allowed to stay up and watch.
‘When England play, I’m usually screaming at the telly with my scarf in my hand. I wouldn’t say I’d given up. It was looking more and more unlikely but, as an English lad, I’d never say never.
‘It’s fantastic to be here. If it’s a one-off that’s great but, being the character I am, if I get in the squad I want a cap and if I get one cap I’ll want two. I don’t think I’ll settle for anything but if it turns out to be one cap I’ll be delighted.’
Everton are keeping tabs on Anderlecht striker Dieumerci Mbokani, 26, who could be available for £2million.