My answer is a resounding yes, butâ€¦
â€¦There will always be disagreement amongst fans over the strengths and weaknesses of players and O’Leary seems to suffer more than most. Now, I’ll put my hand up straight away and say that I’ve never really been a fan, although I have always admired his loyalty and commitment to the cause. This season is different though and – credit where it is due – he has been outstanding.
I was surprised and perhaps a little disappointed that Kenny Jackett offered O’Leary a contract last summer, but his decision to play him in the “Lenny Johnrose” midfield role has unquestionably paid dividendsâ€¦no one can argue with that because we are top of the league!
Several people in that message board debate pointed out that Kris has been our most consistent performer this season. It’s a point of view that’s given credence by last month’s League Two Player of the Month Award, which was richly deserved. But as Phil Sumbler says, many people will never give O’Leary a fair hearing.
The argument against him goes along the lines of “he can’t pass the ball – he’s not creative enough and so he should be replaced.” Now, I could perhaps accept that if the Swans were struggling in some way, but the fact is we are top of the table, we have a rock solid defence (Southend apart) and we are creating a host of chances that have been spurned for whatever reason (bad luck, woodwork, good goalkeeping, bad finishing, etc).
O’Leary is in the team to break up the opposition attack and provide a screen for the back four, and he’s done that to perfection. I counted four last ditch tackles against Mansfield and three against Orient – without those, we would have conceded at least one goal and we wouldn’t be top of the tree at the moment. Unfortunately, the back four and goalkeeper take the plaudits for the clean sheets but I’m sure they would be the first to point to O’Leary’s contribution.
As for his lack of creativityâ€¦that’s what Martinez is in the team to provide, surely? With a further four attacking players in the side, usually Trundle, Forbes, Connor and Robinson, do we really need to sacrifice O’Leary’s defensive abilities?
Let’s learn from the mistakes of two of the top teams in the world. Real Madrid flogged Claude Makelele after refusing to pay him anywhere near the same as their “Galacticos”, flair players like Zidane, Figo and Raul. Where are they now without Makelele’s “limited” defensive capabilities? In total crisis, less like world-beaters and more like the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters!
Manchester United are the sameâ€¦they might have shelled out almost Â£30million for Wayne Rooney but they’ve still suffered their worst ever Premiership start thanks in part to the decision to let Nicky Butt go, another “no frills” player that revels in winning the ball and then giving it to the more creative players in the team.
Although these two sides are playing at a far, far higher level the principle involved is exactly the same. It’s players like Kris O’Leary that provide the platform for entertainers like Lee Trundle – where did all of Magic Daps’ tricks get us last season with such a soft centre to our team? Mid bloody table, that’s where!
So how about cutting the guy some slack and assessing him on the job he’s been asked to do for the team – stand tall and firm, stop the opposition and keep it simple. I think O’Leary’s done that and more, unlucky not to score on several occasions thanks to some good goalkeeping and bad luck.
This time last season I’d have been more inclined to hang the guy out to dry rather than write a piece defending him to the hilt, but if I can let go of my prejudice and give credit where it is due then I’m sure most others can too.