Hall's Tribute To Osman
Former academy chief praises midfielder on ten-year landmark.
Most Evertonians have enjoyed watching Leon Osman in action for the last decade but one man, Ray Hall, has had that privilege for twice as long.
Saturday’s match against Swansea City will mark 10 years to the day since the midfielder made his first competitive senior appearance for Everton.
On 12 January 2003, a fresh-faced Osman emerged from the substitutes’ bench at White Hart Lane as a last-minute substitute. 356 matches later, the 31-year-old continues to wear the blue shirt and is currently in what many consider to be the form of his life.
Hall, Everton’s former academy chief, was responsible for developing Osman during his youth. And he never had any doubts that the Billinge-born man would go on to fulfill the potential he showed during his junior years in the School of Science.
“People talk about Leon having made his debut 10 years ago. No he didn’t – he made his debut for Everton 20 years ago for our Under-11s,” Hall told evertonfc.com.
“He’s been here longer than almost every other member of staff. That says something about the kind of quality and character of the man. Everton has been his club, still is his club and will always be his club.
“I think the academy system is all about players like Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert. Players who are local, players who have got an obvious ability and players that have got a desire to want to improve every year that they are playing the game.
“I don’t think I have worked with anyone with the same technical qualities as Leon, and that includes players like Wayne [Rooney]. He is the most naturally gifted, two-footed player that I have worked with.
“Because of his size, you wouldn’t say he is the quickest player in the world. He is not the strongest or most powerful, so he kind of goes against the grain. Yet, he has got better and better throughout his career.
“I was really interested in what the manager said after the recent game against Chelsea. He said that Leon was arguably the best player on the pitch, which is some compliment when you are playing in that company. It means that you are good enough to play for your country.
“Leon was recently capped for the first time and I don’t see anybody in the country at this moment playing with the same confidence and technical quality as him.
“Leon must be so difficult to play against because once he has got the ball he is hard to shake off it. He is one of the modern era midfielders like you find in the Spanish national team or Barcelona who are on the small side but keep possession ever so well. They keep the ball so well that you spend the whole game chasing it.
“He must be a joy for a defensive player because he is always ready to receive the ball and he doesn’t give it away. He seldom gets caught in possession and is always available for a pass. Likewise, for a striker too you know that Leon is going to support and create chances because of his intelligence.
“Any coach or head of youth would love a side containing Leon Osman every year because he is not only a great team player but a role model.”
Hall worked within the Everton youth setup for over 20 years prior to stepping down from his position as academy manager in the summer of 2011. Now he continues his connections with the Club in an ambassadorial capacity.
He continued: “We won the FA Youth Cup in 1997/98 with the likes of Richard Dunne, Michael Ball, Phil Jevons and Danny Cadamarteri, but I actually believe in many ways that the age group Leon was in was a better side.
“Leon, Tony Hibbert, Francis Jeffers and Kevin McLeod, players like that you knew you could trust, even at that age. They were a joy to work with.
“I remember taking a possession session in a small area in which all of the group were working. I stepped back, leaned against the wall and said to the scout Bob Pendleton ‘they don’t need me here’. I went upstairs, put the kettle on, made two mugs of tea, came down and nothing had changed.
“They were so talented that you only needed to direct them, not coach them.”