Before David Beckham and even before Ryan Giggs, there was another young starlet wowing the crowds at Old Trafford. He was none other than Lee Sharpe. The left winger was one of the first of Fergie’s Fledglings to break into the first team, but all the promise soon faded away as his career nosedived in his mid twenties. But what has Lee Sharpe been up to since those glory days at Old Trafford? Before we find that out we must discover how it went so wrong in the first instance.
Sharpe was playing for Torquay United when he was spotted by the Manchester United scouts. Managing only 16 games for the Gulls before United followed up their interest and signed him for £200,000 in June 1988, a record fee for a youth player at the time.
Following the sale of left-winger Jesper Olsen, and the unsuccessful signing of Ralf Milne, Sharpe was thrust into the limelight, making his first team debut only a few months after being signed. He made his debut for Manchester United on 24th September 1988 as a substitute in a 2-0 win over West Ham United, then going on to make a further 29 appearances for the first team that season.
A key part of the Manchester United side that lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991, he also scored a famous hat-trick against Arsenal in the 4th round of the League cup. Something which he describes as his finest moment in football. Around this time he also made his England debut against the Republic of Ireland, and unable to replace John Barnes in the side, he only managed to win 8 caps over a four year spell.
This could be described as the pinnacle of his career, as another young left-winger was emerging at Old Trafford, his name was Ryan Giggs. Injury and illness meant Sharpe was out for prolonged periods, this gave the young Welshman an opportunity, one which he grabbed with both hands and he established himself as United’s first choice left-winger ahead of Sharpe.
With Andrei Kanchelskis on the right-wing, there was no place in the first eleven for Lee Sharpe, resulting in him being used as a stop gap in various positions. More and more injuries piled up over the next two years resulting in fleeting appearances for Manchester United. . In total he played 265 games for Manchester United during eight years there, scoring 36 goals. Probably best remembered for his goal in the Champions League against Barcelona when he back heeled a cross into the net, or for his Sharpie Shuffle goal celebration.
A transfer to Leeds United soon followed in the summer of 1996 for a club record of £4.5 million. Injuries hampered his time at Leeds, after a good start to his Elland Road career, playing in 26 games and scoring 5 goals, a knee injury ruled him out for the entire 1997–98 season and he was unable to regain his place in the team on recovery.
A loan spell in Serie A with Sampdoria did not work out and after 3 games he was back in England. A loan move to Bradford City then came about in March 1999 where he helped them secure promotion to the Premier League. A permanent transfer was agreed in the summer of 1999 for £250,000.
In 2000–01, Sharpe lost his place in the Bradford team and just before Christmas went on loan to Division One side Portsmouth. He returned to Bradford during the 2001–02 season but when his contract expired at the end of the season he was given a free transfer.
Spells in Iceland and Exeter followed along with a brief trail at Grimsby town, though, In June 2003 he announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 32. He did make a brief return to football in 2004 with Hoobrook Crown who play in the Kidderminster Sunday League, before signing for Northern Counties East Premier League side Garforth Town the following summer.
Since hanging up his boots for good he has carved out a media career and become a ‘celebrity’.
Punditry on the Football Focus and Match of the Day couches, working with ESPN in Asia as a pundit as well. He appeared in one episode of the footballing drama Dream Team.
He is most famous now, not for his football skills but his stint on Celebrity Love Island, where he broke the heart of Jayne Middlemiss and courted Abi Titmuss, whom he later dated outside the show.
Further TV appearances followed, Celebrity Wrestling an example. On this particular show he was known as “Sharpe Shooter”. He then went on to appear in Dancing on Ice in 2007 and appeared in long running British soap Coronation Street as an extra.
Football may seem a distant memory for Lee Sharpe, unfulfilled promise and memorable goal celebrations remain foremost in out minds as we see him now as a reality TV star.