A CHILLY Saturday afternoon on Merseyside would seem a world away from the sun, sea and Sangria of the Spanish coast.
But when Leon Osman trots out at Goodison today to mark a decade of service for Everton, David Moyes believes the midfielder owes a debt of gratitude to Barcelona for such longevity.
“I think Ossie is perhaps the example of how there has been a big style change in the Premier League over the past 10 years,” says the Goodison manager.
“I think that has probably suited the Osmans of this world and helped him to become a top player – it has been a good time for Leon Osman, and a good period for him to be a professional.
“Barcelona perhaps have changed things with how they've done so well with small, talented footballers, and that has paved the way for smaller guys to thrive in this league.”
The football landscape is certainly much changed from the one on to which Osman emerged as a late substitute in Everton’s 4-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on January 12 2003.
Some 327 appearances later, and the midfielder has proven, along with close friend Tony Hibbert, one of the most integral figures of Moyes’s tenure.
However, it is only during the last couple of years that Osman’s talents have been appreciated outside Goodison, leading to a much-deserved senior England debut in the friendly in Sweden in November.
And Moyes admits the change in rules over the past decade to crack down on tackling has worked in the 31-year-old’s favour.
“When he first came in 10 years ago the Premier League was a more physical place and there was more emphasis on physique,” he says.
“You even look at the Champions at that time, Arsenal, and while they had Bergkamp and Henry, but their midfield was Vieira and Petit, and they had Sol Campbell and Toure at the back.
“They were a physically strong unit and they were the best at the time. I think football has evolved over the time Ossie has been around, and that has undoubtedly helped him.
“Some of the laws have changed, there is less tackling and no tackling from behind. It is more about covering now and positional play. The back pass law has changed things too.
“Referees giving regular free-kicks has taken out quite a large element of the physical side of the game and allowed smaller, more technical players to flourish.”
Not that Osman has ever shirked any challenge. Even in today’s climate, the rough and tumble of midfield in the English game calls for a strong character, something the England man developed during loan spells at Carlisle United and Derby County early in his career.
“We sent him out on loan when he was a kid to try and develop the physical side, and it is testimony to him that he managed to get himself a career at that time when it was more physical,” adds Moyes.
“I think he went unnoticed a lot, because maybe he was overshadowed by more physical players, but what he did was make himself a career by being very combative and tough.
“In that period he worked hard to do what he had to do to get a game. He had the skills, but if he had to he was good in the air and he could be competitive.
“If he had to mix it, he wouldn't shy away from that. He's always had that and can't be underestimated.
“We looked after him, played him off the side and also further forward at times, but for me, now in this climate he is as good a central midfield player as anybody in the country right now.”
Moyes adds: “We had to use his creativity at the sides at times, but he has developed and grown and kept growing, and honestly, I think this has been his best season so far – and he has fully deserved his England call up.
“I have always been asked if he could play for England, and in the past thought maybe he was just below that level in the next group down, but now he is there by right.
“Now there are different types of players coming into football, and that helps. He could survive in the other style of football and have a career, but now he is thriving.”
Everton could move back into the top four today should they beat Swansea and Chelsea lose at Stoke City.
Swansea secured a famous 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final in midweek having held Arsenal to a 2-2 FA Cup third round draw three days earlier.
Michael Laudrup’s side have lost only two of their last 12 Premier League games, and have won at the Emirates and Anfield this season, but were thumped 3-0 by Everton in September at the Liberty Stadium.
And Moyes says: “I have been very impressed with Swansea since the start of the season. They got off to a great start.
“You take every game individually and it doesn't matter what has happened in the past, it doesn't count. You take every game on its own merit and it's a tough game against Swansea – they have had some really good results.
“It was a terrific result in midweek and they have got themselves in a position where they have a better than average chance of reaching the cup final.”