As Ryan Giggs is inundated with praise for his performances in the twilight of his career, a former Man United left winger will look back and wonder if he could have found himself in a similar position, if luck had been on his side.
Lee Sharpe was an immensly talented winger but injury as well as the celebrity lifestyle saw his talent dwindle and he ended his career at unheralded Garforth Town.
Starting his career at Torquay United, he was snapped up by Man United after just 16 appearances for £200,000, a record fee at the time for a YTS player and it was at Old Trafford that Sharpe made his name.
He was fortunate as Jesper Olsen, United’s first choice left winger, left just months after his arrival and the infamous Ralph Milne failed to live up expectations thus he made 30 appearances in his first season at the club.
He scored his first goal for the club the following season against Millwall but his season would end in disappointment as he failed to make the squad for the FA Cup final, which United would win 1-0 in a replay after initially drawing 3-3.
The following season as United won the Cup Winners Cup, Sharpe would play an integral part and in his own words the highlight of his United career came as he scored a hat trick against Arsenal in the League Cup. The 90-91 season saw Sharpe finally become United’s first choice left winger but he would not hold this position for long as an unknown rose through the ranks to usurp his place, Ryan Giggs.
As he became first choice at United he would receive England call ups and despite being unable to shake John Barnes from the position, for some one as talented as he to only get 8 caps it was a shame especially as in his time England had players like Steve Guppy in his preferred position.
Injury also played a part in his decline, he suffered viral meningitis in Autumn 1992 opening the door for Ryan Giggs to come in and take his place on the wing and when he had fully recovered he was left battling with Denis Irwin for the left back spot and Andrei Kanchelskis for a place on the right wing.
Sharpe coasted through the later part of his United career, taking his chance when players were injured but he too suffered from injuries fracturing his ankle in the 94-95 season. With Kanchelskis sold to Everton at the start of the 1995-1996 season it was thought that Sharpe would claim the right wing position as his own but the emergence of another talent, the 20 year old David Beckham put paid to that. He played the majority of games that season but his long term future was not guaranteed and at the end of the season having picked up his second FA Cup medal from the subs bench as United beat Liverpool 1-0 he left United. At just 24 it would be the last major trophy Sharpe would win.
Speaking to The Guardian when asked if he regretted leaving the club he said,
“No. It was just that time. I’d spent two years unhappy there. I’d just been playing bit parts.”
Despite his history with injuries Leeds paid United £4.5m for his services but the decision was rued as a knee injury ruled him out of the entire 97-98 season. His first season at Elland Road would be his only as after returning from injury in 1998 he was loaned to Sampdoria. After that move went sour he returned to England on loan at Bradford City who helped gain promotion to the Premiership in 98-99 and stave off relegation in 99-00.
But like so many before the relationship soured and after spells at Portsmouth, Grimsby and Exeter City he found himself playing in Iceland for Grindavík.
At just 32, Sharpe announced his retirement from the game but came back for spells at Hoobrook Crown and Garforth Town where he finally ended his career.
Younger football fans may not be fully aware of who Sharpe is beyond his appearances on reality tv shows (and there have been many) but he was a player in his day and if not for injury, the emergence of the likes of Giggs and Beckham and his love of celebrity status he could have amounted to so much more.
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