Unlikely footballer Ben Osborn focused on Sheffield United despite taking first steps in coaching career
He spent time during the first coronavirus lockdown channelling his inner Finchy from The Office and throwing, in his own words, “a little coffee thing” over his house, while writing a blog on topics including music, film and drivers of which cars are the most discourteous on the road.
Ben Osborn, by the usual markers, is not exactly a stereotypical footballer. A lover of indie music, he previously took up guitar lessons and says he knows five chords. Callum Robinson, when he was at Sheffield United, described Osborn as his most intelligent teammate at Bramall Lane because he once saw him reading a book on a flight.
Many modern-day players refuse to even contemplate what they will do in retirement until it arrives and far fewer consciously shun the PlayStation or the golf course to dip their toes in a possible post-playing career while they are still in their footballing prime. But Osborn has done exactly that.
In 2019, the year he joined the Blades from Nottingham Forest, he set up Elite Football Development with Jack Andrews, a former youth teammate at the City Ground. The academy aims to offer professional-level coaching for youngsters, in a low-pressure, grassroots environment. The hope is that it proves a valuable step on the ladder for players - and coach.
“We’ve seen players that have been released from academies, low on confidence, and we’ve helped them improve,” Osborn said. “That’s been a really good thing for us.
“We take bits from the experience we’ve had in the game. We try to be a bit more ‘human’, if that’s the right word, with the kids. They see us as normal people now, not footballers, and we have a laugh with them.
“The academy has developed and we’re now giving grassroots players the chance to work with ex-footballers and UEFA qualified coaches. It’s gone from strength to strength.”
Osborn, now 27, already holds his UEFA B Licence and is currently studying for his A Licence qualification. His focus remains very much on the present, and trying to help Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades back into the top flight, but there is very much half an eye on the future.
“When I was at Forest, I saw a lot of players go through it,” Osborn, speaking to The Star ahead of a session at Eastwood Community FC in Nottingham, admitted.
“They’d get to their mid-30s, approaching the end of their careers, and being a bit uneasy about what would happen next. I never wanted to be in that situation and I was always conscious of that.
“I just thought it’d be a great opportunity to get the badges done when I did have a bit more free time. I don’t have as much now, but it’s still a good opportunity and I’m in a situation now where, if my contract was ripped up tomorrow and I never played again, I’d be able to deal with it a bit better.
“It takes the pressure off a little bit and stops me worrying, which I know a lot of people do.
“Even if I got to the end of my career and then went into coaching, I’d be rushing to get the qualifications and hours on the training ground. Now, I’ll be ahead of the others.
“But I am a footballer, first and foremost, and that is the most important thing to me. My career, playing for Sheffield United and getting the most out of it. It’s an unbelievable opportunity and it is a short career, but I feel coaching is beneficial to it.
“It’s just about developing as a coach now, working with older players. I think that’s what we’ll eventually get to. I need to find out what kind of coach I’ll be. But I think I’ll have high standards, and I’d want to get the most out of my players.”
In that respect, Osborn the coach would probably hold similar values as Osborn the player. Never one to shirk or hide on the field, Osborn has earned plaudits from Blades fans for his all-action performances when he has pulled on the shirt. Off the field, he is a personable and intelligent. And he admits the ‘unconventional footballer’ tag is one that has been thrown his way before.
“It’s probably a good thing,” he conceded. “If you just see yourself as a footballer, you can have problems when you lose that identity when you retire.
“There are more players like me than you might think but I think I’ve always been grounded. Because I came through at Forest and spent so long there, I didn’t move away from my friends and family so I still hung around with them.
“You see some players move away at a young age and hang around in a football circle, and they end up in a bit of a bubble. I never really had that. I’ve always been fairly grounded and still in the real world.”
To such an extent that when he meets new people, he is reluctant to tell them what he does for a living.
“Sometimes my mates, on a night out, will ask me to say who I am to try and get something sorted,” Osborn laughed. “I would much rather someone take me at face value.”
United fans have had the chance to do that this season after Osborn, previously a victim of his own versatility, finally nailed down a place in Slavisa Jokanović’s side. Three goals and three assists was a decent return from the left wing in a side that was hardly firing on all cylinders under the Serb and, with his contract up in the summer, he is determined to prove himself all over again and earn another one.
Osborn may be something of an unlikely footballer, but hanging up the boots and taking up the whistle can wait for now.
Ben Osborn is the co-founder and a coach at Elite Football Academy, which aims to provide academy-level coaching to grassroots players. Visit www.elitefootballdevelopmentuk.co.uk for more information.