Leon Osman couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The Everton midfielder had heard about a young boyhood Blue by the name of Wayne Rooney coming through the youth ranks. Then he got the nod to join the first-team and a star was born.
“From the moment he walked into the training ground you knew he was going to be special,” Osman recalls of the day, more than 15 years ago, when speaking to Chris Sutton and The Sportsman.
“Already, physically developed; I’m four or five years older than him and he was already bigger and more powerful than me so you knew he was going to be a player. Even when he was 14, there were videos going round of ridiculous things he was doing in youth cup matches.
“One of the moments you go out before training to get warm, players having a chuckle and passing the ball and Wayne would just charge out and claim he’s going to hit the crossbar from the halfway line, something I couldn’t think about and he took it, hit the bar and you think ‘Who’s this kid here?! No chance, that’s a fluke.’ Then he did it again, twice on the run. Who is this kid?”
This kid was Wayne Rooney and he announced himself to the world by scoring a stunning late winner to end Arsenal’s unbeaten run, all while still only 16.
He would go on to win everything for Manchester United while breaking records for his country and it came as no surprise to Osman.
“No none at all,” he said. “There was disappointment we couldn’t keep him at Everton longer than we did but he’s gone on to be Manchester United’s all-time scorer, he’s England’s current record goalscorer he was always going to achieve things.”
Forced to sell their prized asset to the Red Devils back in 2004, from a financial viewpoint, things are better for Everton at the start of the 2020s. Free to spend, though they’ve stuttered for form, the Toffees managed to land world renowned coach Carlo Ancelotti this season and Osman insists it is a coup.
“I was surprised and pleased,” he told The Sportsman of the appointment. “At the time, from being in a bad position, having had a few managers previously who hadn’t done so well, I wasn’t convinced we could get someone of Carlo Ancelotti’s stature but fair play to the board, to the hierarchy for having that desire to go out and get the best.
“Quite often in football, timing is everything and with him losing his (Napoli) job coinciding with Everton looking for a new manager, things fell into place.”
Though Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman and Marco Silva tried and ultimately failed at Goodison Park in recent times, Osman believes Evertonians can truly have faith the good times are coming under the Italian.
“I’m never surprised people want to come to Everton,” he insisted, “Ancelotti has won things and is a manager with a great reputation of doing that so I suppose that when I look around at Everton last managers, they’ve come to Everton to better themselves, he’s come to Everton to better the club.
“The club ,they want the fans to believe and dreaming of achieving and yes, to dream of the Champions League is maybe premature, but at least it’s a dream that is coming to the fan, looking at Europe.”
Another manager looking to have an impact is new Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. Osman played in midfield with the Spaniard for five years at Everton and believes he has all the qualities to be a success in north London.
“He was a really good player, technically fantastic, his delivery, his attitude, he’d probably be in the top three or four (of players played with)” said Osman as he lavished praise on his former team-mate.
“What he brought to Everton was a change in attitude off the pitch. That culture, he was the point in football, the foreign players changed things but he improved standards, no drinking, real professionalism, extra care in what he ate. How well he could be playing, so fit and you wanted to be at that standard too.
“He was ahead of his time, he was a student of the game and I always felt he would go into management because he sees the game in a good way, he’s tactically very good and became captain with his leadership quality.
“To see him with Pep Guardiola (at Manchester City) the education he will have got in that stint as assistant manager will have improved him. People are saying nothing but good things about his first decisions and what he’s done.”