Lee Sharpe – One of the great players England never had

In the early 90s there was young left-winger at Manchester United who always seemed destiny bound to make a big name for himself. He forced his way into the first team as a teenager with silky skills and youthful exuberance. He was cool, good looking and popular with the fans and in 2008 he wrote himself into the record books when he appeared in the final of an old and legendary competition – Superstars on Channel 5.

Lee Sharpe came to United in 1988 after impressing at Torquay in his debut season. United signed him for under quarter of a million squid on the now defunct YTS – a sort of on the job apprenticeship for school leavers – which at the time was a record for such a purchase. Due to the departure of Jesper Olsen and the rubbishness of Ralph Milne, Sharpe ended his first season at the club with 30 appearances and a growing following. After a steady but uneventful second season, his third saw a sharp rise in prominence and he we instrumental in United’s victorious European Cup Winner’s Cup campaign. He also famously scored a hat-trick at Highbury in a crushing 6-2 defeat of Arsenal in the League Cup, which was then called the Milk Cup, and has progressively been getting stronger and stronger through soft drinks to larger until it’s current incarnation as the Carling Cup. The 2020 Ketamine Cup will probably still not be seen as that important though to be honest. Sharpe was fortuitous again as the declining form of Danny Wallace (which was later rather unfortunately revealed to be down partly to Multiple sclerosis) saw him establish himself as United’s first choice left-winger the following year. However his fortunes in competition – and injury – were about to take a drastic turn for the worse.

Called up for England after his prodigious displays in red, he was unable to oust John Barnes as first choice for his country and at club level a new, brighter, cooler and handsomer starlet was emerging. Ryan Giggs immediately replaced Sharpe as the golden boy of the youth set up and with comparisons to George Best as forthcoming as silly hats on St Patrick’s Day, Sharpe soon found himself second best in his favored position. When not played at the expense of Giggs, he was often shifted out to the right or back to left full back, both positions with fearsome competition in the shape of Andrei Kanchelskis and Denis Irwin. To make matters worse, Sharpe’s remaining time at the club was restricted further through injury and despite a highly memorable and iconic goal against Barcelona in the Champions League, he never regained a starting place again. The departure of Kanchelskis looked like a glimmer of hope, but the emergence of another floppy haired handsome starlet in the shape of David Beckham, meant he continued to struggle and was eventually moved on to Leeds in 1996.

From then on injuries continued to hamper his form and despite a brief resurgence at Bradford in 1999, he retired in 2003 after a slew of ineffectual spells around the houses. It’s a shame for Sharpe – a truly gifted player at the peak of his powers – that his post football career should make more interesting reading than his playing years. After becoming a frequent face on annoyingly prolific celebrity reality shows – including Celebrity Love Island, Celebrity Wrestling, Celebrity Shop Lifting and Celebrity Hod Carrying – amongst many others – He was scheduled to appear on Coronation Street but now fronts a series of adverts for baldness on the London underground where he’s, rather depressingly, billed as “of Celebrity Love Island fame”.

Those of us with slightly longer memories will remember a time when the left side of England’s midfield was a constant national crisis. The myth about Ryan Giggs’ eligibility sprung up out of the consistent problem of replacing Barnes once old big bum had hung up his boots to concentrate on being a rubbish manager and talking inexplicably fast on television program’s. Were it not for his injuries and lack of playing time, Sharpe could easily of been the man to fill the gap that no one else seemed able to fill, but in the end he failed to earn more than 8 caps for the Three Lions. Instead he’ll be remembered mainly by football fans and bald commuters for his Elvis Presley celebrations, his celebrity dalliances and once apparently turning up to a Manchester United squad photo in another clubs shorts by mistake. Where for wert thou Lee? We could’ve used you.


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