Sunderland’s John O’Shea says Manchester United career owed much to Bournemouth loan

John O'Shea gets the better of Spurs Ryan Mason last weekend
John O'Shea gets the better of Spurs Ryan Mason last weekend

Sir Alex Ferguson called a fresh-faced John O’Shea into his office just a few months after Manchester United had completed the Treble.

The 18-year-old was one of the next rookies off the conveyor belt at Old Trafford hoping to follow in the footsteps of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs et al, who had lifted the Champions League in such dramatic fashion at the end of the 1998-99 season.

O’Shea had made just one first-team appearance for United – in a largely juvenile line-up which had lost at Aston Villa in the League Cup – and a window of opportunity opened for the teenage defender to spend a couple of months on loan at Third Division Bournemouth.

Some of the O’Shea family acquaintances back in Ireland speculated whether the move signalled a premature end to his career at United.

There were similar question marks when O’Shea spent a couple of months on loan in Belgium with Royal Antwerp the following season.

But as Sunderland captain O’Shea reflects on that loan spell almost 16 years on, prior to the Black Cats’ trip to Bournemouth this weekend, he believes it was the making of a career which would see him lift five Premier League titles at United, plus the FA Cup and the Champions League.

“I had a fantastic experience down there in terms of football, the people. They really looked after me. I’ve only got positive memories,” said O’Shea.

“The manager (Ferguson) sent me there to get an understanding of what it means to win games at that level, rather than just a reserve game.

“You see lads fighting for contracts, bonuses and that’s what it meant to their careers.

“It was a great leveller for me.

“I think he was able to spot when players weren’t getting a good enough test with the reserve games.

“They had a good history of picking out a club which would suit.

“And then the following year, I got a bigger test again to go out to play in the Belgian top league.

“It was stages for me and thankfully it worked.”

The loan system – particularly the emergency loan window for Football League clubs that opened last week – continues to provide a route for youngsters to cut their teeth down the pyramid.

But the Premier League’s heavyweights are increasingly also using loans as a lease arrangement, with Chelsea allowing a staggering 33 players to leave Stamford Bridge temporarily this season.

O’Shea feels the chance to sample life in the lower leagues can still be a crucial breeding ground though, if players approach temporary switches in the right manner.

He said: “Obviously, Chelsea have taken it to a new level. You look at Patrick (van Aanholt) whose come to us after I don’t know how many loan spells there.

“Obviously, some lads will get disheartened as well.

“Even for me, I remember people back home saying to my brother that ‘United are getting rid of him already’ type of thing.

“But Sir Alex Ferguson said to me that this would be part of my development.

“That’s the type of thing players have to understand enough over why they’re doing it.

“Some lads turned loans down and maybe that didn’t do them any favours with the manager at the time. And you have to make sure that when you do go on loan, you do things properly, play your games and benefit from it.”

In the years that followed O’Shea’s brief stint at Bournemouth, the Cherries struggled to maintain their very existence, let alone their Football League status.

But Eddie Howe’s return to the club three years ago, he has taken the club from League One to the Premier League, where they will have the chance to secure a second top flight victory this weekend.

However, Sunderland are looking for that elusive first Premier League win of the campaign to consolidate their improvement over recent games.

O’Shea added: “Hopefully we’ll be able to upset them on Saturday.

“We know it’ll be a good test because they’ve made a very good impact in terms of how they approach the game.

“They don’t really sit back and settle for a draw.

“They really try to win games, which is how they finished the Championship season – scoring so many goals with that attacking threat.

“But hopefully we can use that to our advantage too.”