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Right/Left Midfielder

John Oster  FACTS
Born Boston, 8 December 1978
Height 5' - 9" (175 cm)
Joined Everton from Grimsby Town in July 1997 (£1,000,000 *)
Signed by Howard Kendall
Debut v Crystal Palace (h) on 9 August 1997
Nicknames Johninho
Left Everton for Sunderland in August 1999 (£1,100,000)
Finale v Newcastle United (a), 7 March 1999
Honours Welsh U-21, Full International
   Seasons  Club  Apps  Gls
1995-1997 Grimsby Town 18 (2) 4

* Fee could eventually rise by a further £500,000

  • Confident on the ball
  • Brilliant dribbler
  • Excellent shot
  • Will take on defenders
  • Still young and inexperienced
  • Petulant and arrogant
  • Physically lightweight
  • Can be shrugged off the ball
John Oster had a rapid rise to fame since being handed his first-team debut in the League by Grimsby Town manager, Kenny Swain, at Charlton in January 1997.  A right-sided midfielder, he has since played for Wales at U-21 level and was later called up the the full Welsh squad.

Before joining Everton, Oster was at the centre of continued interest from Premiership clubs, with The Mariners resolutely holding out, as if by prior agreement, until Swain's good friend, Howard Kendall, was ready to bring the youngster to Goodison Park.

Under the noses of the then high-profile clubs, Manchester United and Newcastle United, Kendall strode in to make Oster his second signing of the Third Era at Everton. The fee was believed to be around £1,000,000, rising to perhaps £1.6 M, depending on appearances. 

Oster's arrival followed the successful snatching of Gareth Farrelly from Aston Villa.  Howard Kendall was convinced both players were ready to compete for places as part of his motley first-team squad.  He said:

'Both John and Gareth have great potential and are possibly ready to go straight into the first team.

'John is a young footballer who I believe has tremendous talent. Grimsby had already turned down several big offers for him.

'He can play on the right or left. I am trying to strengthen my squad with quality players. People will say he is a youngster but if you are good enough, you are old enough.'

Sadly, Kendall came to rue these words.  The common wisdom at the end of his first season was that Oster was over-played in the worst situation: a relegation dogfight, and it seriously damaged his confidence.  This manifested itself in frustration when playing for Wales, where he managed to get himself sent off in two successive international matches.

Under Kendall, he was too often called upon to play a winning role in a losing side (shades of Michael Branch under Joe Royle?).  Being roundly booed by large segments of an equally frustrated Goodison crowd cannot have helped this lad's cause, but he could have still developed into a tremendous player for Everton. 

Some signs of that potential appeared deep into the 1998-99 season when Walter Smith finally called on the young lad as a substitute (along with Tony Grant) in the disastrous Worthington League Cup-tie with Sunderland.  Oster had been playing brilliantly for the reserves, and was again thrown on to try and save the game – which he so very nearly did.  He hugged the right touchline, giving Everton much-needed width, linking well with Grant, Collins, and Cadamarteri, and taunting the Sunderland defence with a dazzling display reminiscent of his early performances in a Royal Blue shirt.  

But Walter Smith is not renowned for trusting his fate to the kids.  John Oster found it hard to get the recognition his performances warranted.  He did get a chance against Coventry in the Cup, and he took it well, scoring the winning goal.  Three good performances followed, against Middlesbrough, Leeds, and Wimbledon, but getting substituted before the end of each match seemed ominous.

A late sub appearance in the ill-fated FA Cup Quarterfinal at Newcastle may prove to be his last.  He did not feature in any of the following 11 games, and was one of the five lost men listed for transfer by Walter Smith as the season ended.  Overheard in the main stand, celebrating goals by Arsenal, his Everton days were surely numbered.  An enigmatic, problematic, idiosyncratic artisan in the Duncan McKenzie mould; perhaps there is no longer any room for such characters in the Premiership.

Aug 99: The end of Johninho's all-too-brief and ultimately unproductive Everton career finally came as Peter Reid stepped up his repeated bids to over £1M, and Oster's long-anticipated removal was complete.  Does Peter Reid have the character to at once discipline and inspire this wayward talent where Walter Smith failed?

Jan 2001:  And the answer is clearly "No".  Peter Reid had no more success with the wayward genius than Walter Smith, eventually shipping him out on loan to Barnsley, and then putting him on the transfer list before he unfortunately did his knee in playing for Sunderland Reserves against Manchester United.

Apr 2003:  With Sunderland relegated, new manager Mick McCarthy was forced to cut his cloth and give a transformed Oster his chance in Division One.  Oster played in 37 of Sunderland's 44 games so far in Season 2003-04.  Welsh Captain Gary Speed says: "John's ability has never been in doubt.  At Everton, he showed me how good he is on the ball and his natural ability is absolutely fantastic."  But it wasn't good enough to overcome Millwall in the FA Cup Semi-Final.

June 2004: In the Welsh magazine Golwg, Oster said that he didn't like Wilkinson at Sunderland, who would not play Oster, because if he did, then Sunderland would have had to make an extra payment of 250k to Everton. Apparently this payment did eventually become due, but it was waived as part of Kevin Kilbane's transfer deal.

As for his time at Everton, Oster said things changed when Walter Smith arrived. "We never spoke.  Looking back, I went to the Premiership too early: I was only 20, and Everton was a different world to Grimsby.  There, we'd play in front of 3,000, while there were 40,000 at Goodison.  It was a different lifestyle as well; the lonely nights in a hotel in Liverpool have left their mark.  I used to sit alone and worry about Everton, knowing I'd have to impress the fans, especially in the early games."

Dec 2004:  After falling out of favour with Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy, Oster was loaned out to Leeds United, where he impressed during his first month at Elland Road and the loan was extended amid talk of a permanent deal.  But his loan spell was cut short after he was disciplined by Leeds for an incident in Durham earlier in the month and was then suspended by the club pending the results of an inquiry into an incident at a player's Christmas party.  Oster eventually moved on to Burnley.

July 2005:  At 26, Oster secured a trial at Milwall after being released by Burnley. 

Season Squad
1997-98 19 16 (15) 1 3 (1) 1 19 (16) 2
1998-99 19 6 (3) - 3 (3) 1 9 (6) 1

Totals: 22 (18) 1 6 (4) 2 28 (22) 3

Cup Statistics include all other non-league senior matches, as counted by Everton FC in the Matchday Programme

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© Marko Poutiainen and Michael Kenrick 1999

Last update: 5 Aug 1999

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