Sheffield United's Ben Osborn reveals the secret behind his recent success
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“I’d listen to some music or go out for a walk, basically anything to take my mind off it,” he says. “It’s difficult to do, though, because it’s what we all love and every game at the moment seems to be on television. You want to know what’s happening and what’s going on, so there’s always that temptation.”
Eventually, after some long hikes through the countryside near his east Midlands home, the former Nottingham Forest midfielder and England youth international stumbled across the perfect solution. One which provided a welcome distraction from the malaise at Bramall Lane but, unlike the online tutorials he has subscribed to in an effort to master the guitar, also kept him in touch and connected with his profession.
“It’s something I’ve been doing a lot more of over the last couple of years,” Osborn explains, describing how he spends time away from the training ground studying the mechanics and skill sets required to play different positions. “Obviously, when I first came here, I was spending quite a bit of time on the bench. But I was always watching what the guys were doing and how they were doing it; particularly if they were in an area where I might come on.
“The analysis is so in-depth these days that every little thing gets recorded, so it’s easy to watch matches back and get little clips of incidents. I’ve definitely been getting into that aspect of things, the learning side rather than the simply trying to do it side if you like, a lot more.”
Those long evening sessions spent in front of the laptop proved a constructive use of Osborn’s time. After failing to win any of their first 18 outings this season, losing 15 and drawing three, United face Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow hoping to record their third victory of a week which, following last Saturday’s FA Cup triumph at Bristol Rovers, continued with another over Newcastle 72 hours later.
Osborn’s contribution towards the latter, United’s first top-flight success since July, revealed he is now mastering the wing-back role Chris Wilder has long suspected would bring the best out of his talents. With an injury to Enda Stevens providing an opening in the starting eleven, it speaks volumes about the quality of the performances Osborn has delivered that the Republic of Ireland international is no longer considered a shoe-in to return when passed fit. Despite being described by Wilder earlier this season as one of the best proponents of the art in the division.
“It took me a couple of months to get to grips with it properly, watching the way it works and especially here where we play a little bit differently to others,” Osborn acknowledges, referencing his manager’s penchant for overlapping centre-halves. “The more you play it though, and I had a few run outs there in the cup, you more you begin to understand it.”
“I do think, if you look at the two roles, there’s not actually that much difference in possession,” Osborn continues. “When I’ve looked at it, where I pick up the ball at wing-back is pretty much the same as when I’m on the left hand side of midfield because we push on so much here.
“One of the advantages I get from being at wing-back, however, is that I feel I can speak to people more and help to get more out of them that way. In midfield, with how busy we are, you can rarely catch your breath at times.”
Communication will be important as United, who are now only nine points adrift of safety after dispatching Newcastle, look to stifle a Spurs attack containing Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. The duo have scored 34 goals between them so far this term.
“I do really enjoy that, the talking side of things,” Osborn says. “When you play a few more games, you start to feel more comfortable and at wing-back, you do see things a little bit clearer because more of the game is in front of you. So I enjoy talking to my centre-half and the player in front of me, telling them what’s happening and going on.”
Despite their new found sense of optimism, United, who Wilder revealed last night will be without seven senior squad members for the visit of Jose Mourinho’s side, must still piece together a series of positive results in order to prolong their stay at the highest level. After facing Plymouth Argyle in the fourth round of the cup, meetings with both Manchester clubs, fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea loom on the horizon.
Nevertheless, Osborn believes the psychological boost events over the past seven days have provided means it is a battle United are now better equipped for.
“There’s been an upturn in mood, as you would expect. I think, against Newcastle, it was really how we did it rather than the fact we’d won, even though after what we’ve been through I’ll never take a win for granted again.
“Before going to Bristol, we spoke about the fact we needed to get our identity back, and the fact we knew we’d lost it really hurt. But I think we’ve done that in our last two and so now it’s all about not looking too far ahead, just trying to hunt down the team in front of us and then the one after that.
“We definitely think we can do it. It’s just about taking small steps, starting with what’s going to be a really tough match this weekend.”