Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur: Lennon was sold on the cheap - Deane

Aaron Lennon.
Aaron Lennon.
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Amid the great give-away at financially-ravaged Leeds United in the mid-noughties, one outgoing deal glaringly stood out for its outlandish benevolence, some would say plain craziness.

A litany of players left Elland Road in the fire-sale to end them all following the wanton largesse of the Peter Ridsdale years. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the one which still has Whites supporters shaking their heads at the incredulity of it all involves a quietly-spoken lad from Little London, who reluctantly left his hometown club for the capital on June 15, 2005.

Then just a couple of months past his 18th birthday, Aaron Lennon moved to Tottenham Hotspur for a mere £1m – even taking a wage cut to move to White Hart Lane – with United, at the time, insisting they effectively had no choice due to the teenager’s contract and the money they would have to pay him if he stayed.

That did not stop fans venting their fury at the decision, especially with Lennon keen to stay, and what has happened in the career of the prodigiously talented wingman since has only added to their ire – with Spurs quite possibly laying a justifiable claim to pulling off one of the greatest deals in Premiership history.

Lennon makes his first return to Elland Road with Spurs for a televised FA Cup fourth-round encounter this Sunday, having missed out on locking horns with his former club when the two clubs met twice at the same stage of the competition back in 2009-10 due to a groin injury.

It is likely Lennon, who spoke about the club always being in his heart immediately after his transfer south, will get a generous reception from home supporters.

But expect a few to be muttering the ‘if only’s’ following a cut-price transfer which perplexed not only fans, but players.

Just ask a man who lined up along him during his breakthrough 2004-05 campaign with United in Brian Deane, a famous sporting son of Chapeltown.

Deane, who left United towards the end of that season for Sunderland, told the YEP: “I knew at the time Leeds would struggle to hang onto him with the financial situation. But when I heard he had left for a million, I was amazed, flabbergasted.

“I had not seen someone with as much natural talent as that, for someone so young, ever.

“Talent identification is massive in the game and looking at Aaron at that time, there was no-one like him in the country.

“It was such a surprise for me that he left for such a small amount of money, bearing in mind what money the club got for the likes of Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods. I couldn’t believe it. I think it was one of those where he was more of less pushed out. I think Leeds were just desperate for the money, although they could have got more for him.

“A year later, he was valued at around £20million quid and I remember Chelsea being interested in buying him and that was the figure banded about.

“Whoever made the decision (to sell Lennon), it was not based on knowing how good a player he could be.”

Lennon may have first shot to prominence in the infamous relegation season of 2003-04 at Elland Road, but it was the following year that he became a man in a footballing sense in the second-tier along seasoned pros such as Deane, who soon appreciated that the young winger’s talent was truly special.

His explosive pace may have been his most marketable and obvious asset, but Deane insists he possessed the full package of skills required to be a top-class wide player from an early age, namely game intelligence, close control and crossing ability, with the notion that he was a flier without method in his early days something he instantly scoffs at.

And Deane pinpoints a famous 3-2 Boxing Day victory at the Stadium of Light as the day when Lennon really came of age.

“His feet were just so quick and the idea was just to get the ball to him as soon as possible as Aaron isolates people one-on-one. He was just always took rival players to task,” he said.

“For me, he had an old head on young shoulders. I remember in a game against Sunderland when me, him and David Healy scored and we beat them 3-2 up there, that he did a move that you rarely see in someone so young.

“He was just so switched on about football. I remember he brought the ball down, flicked it inside to me and played a one-two and went to the other side all in one movement and I just thought: ‘Wow, that is somebody who is always thinking about his game and is attentive.’ But it wasn’t just about pace with him. I know people did say: ‘His final product wasn’t this and wasn’t that.’ But that was nonsense for me; it quickly evolved. People think with wingers, it is about getting to the by-line and whipping a ball in.

But it is also about link-up play and Aaron has all of that in abundance.

“Looking at Aaron, you could play him anywhere across the front line now, although that would probably not be a long-term plan.”

Lennon has already achieved plenty in his career so far, for both club and country and at just 25, his peak years are arguably still to come.

The Leeds lad is also refreshingly modest and courteous off it, according to Deane –– and far removed from the ‘big-time Charlies’ who pervade the game at many of the country’s blue-riband clubs.

He said: “When we were at the club, I looked out for Aaron, with him being a Leeds lad, like me. His cousin Milton is also a really good friend of mine, while I know quite a few of the family. My brother Tony was also Milton’s best man at his wedding.

“Aaron was very popular in the changing rooms and for a young lad, he was very respectful of the older players in there as well. We all had a good relationship with him.

“I remember seeing him a couple of years after he moved in a bar and he came up straightaway and offered me a drink and I thought that was really nice.

“I am sure he will get a good reception on Sunday. Although I do not think I would fancy being the left-back playing against him!”

He added: “I knew Aaron was good, but he has probably surpassed how I thought he would do, really.

“To see that potential and for him to sustain it at the levels he has is credit to him.

“People talk about Gareth Bale at Spurs, but you have got to say at this moment, Spurs have two of the best wide players in Europe who would get into any team.”