He scored on his de­but for United but Kieran Lee had a prob­lem...

Daily Mail - - Capital One Cup - By JOE BERNSTEIN

TAK­ING on Cris­tiano Ron­aldo for a place in the team at Manch­ester United was never likely to end well for Kieran Lee.

He left Old Traf­ford shortly be­fore his 20th birth­day, but the Sh­effield Wed­nes­day player ac­knowl­edges how train­ing with a su­per­star will hold him in good stead for tonight’s Cap­i­tal One Cup quar­ter-fi­nal against Stoke.

‘Ev­ery­one could see straight away what Ron­aldo had, but the work he put into his game was some­thing we’d never seen be­fore,’ says Lee, who scored on his first-team de­but for United in a League Cup tie aged 18 and is now just two rounds from what would be a first ma­jor cup fi­nal at Wem­b­ley.

‘When train­ing fin­ished at United, we’d all go in­side to have food. Af­ter that, the young lads would go back out and do our jobs like col­lect­ing the balls. Ron­aldo would still be out there on his own do­ing skills.

‘He’d stay out to be the best. And he be­came the best. Not me, I was wait­ing to go home! But he left an im­pres­sion on me, that work ethic. I’ve never seen any­one like him, be­fore or since.’

Lee played three first-team games for United, scor­ing in the League Cup against Crewe in 2006 be­fore fea­tur­ing in an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat in the next round at Southend.

Ferguson’s squad at Roots Hall in­cluded Ron­aldo, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Shawcross, who would have cap­tained Stoke tonight but picked up a red card against Sun­der­land at the week­end.

With Ron­aldo block­ing his path on the right-hand side of midfield, the long-term prospects looked bleak for Lee. A loan spell at QPR was un­suc­cess­ful largely be­cause the Staly­bridge- born young­ster was home­sick. There were also con­cerns he wasn’t vo­cal enough on the pitch. ‘The re­serveteam man­ager Brian McClair was a big one for that. I’m just a laid­back per­son,’ re­calls Lee.

When he and Sir Alex Ferguson de­cided it was right for him to leave, he chose Old­ham Ath­letic in or­der to stay in the North-West, even though it was a cul­ture shock in other ways.

‘At United, we had peo­ple to clean our boots, hang up our kit. You’d leave it on the side af­ter train­ing and it would be sorted for you. It had a nice can­teen,’ he said. ‘I thought that was nor­mal. On the first day at Old­ham, I found out you had to clean your own boots. We’d drive up to the lo­cal shop af­ter train­ing to buy a sand­wich. That was lunch.

‘But be­ing with my fam­ily and friends was a big rea­son for me to go there. I’ve got five broth­ers and my par­ents were fos­ter car­ers, so we’d of­ten have other chil­dren around. I’m used to com­pany. Go­ing to QPR and be­ing on my own in an apart­ment was tough.’

He moved to Sh­effield Wed­nes­day three years ago and is be­gin­ning to ful­fil the po­ten­tial that made United sign him aged 12. He scored in Wed­nes­day’s open­ing Cap­i­tal One Cup tie against Mans­field and starred in the 3-0 vic­tory against Arse­nal in the last round. He’s now a midfield cre­ator, the po­si­tion he fan­cied when start­ing out.

‘We got a boost when we saw the Arse­nal line-up in the dress­in­groom,’ he ad­mits. ‘When I saw it was (Mathieu) Flamini and a young boy (Glen) Ka­mara in midfield I knew it gave us a bet­ter chance. The score­line didn’t flat­ter us.’

Stoke will be at full strength and a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion. ‘They’ll fancy their chances but we go there fairly con­fi­dent of pulling off a shock,’ said Lee.

He may not have ended up star­ring in a movie about his own life, like Ron­aldo, but Lee hasn’t given up on a Premier League re­turn.

He still lives close to his fam­ily in Staly­bridge and his par­ents will be in the crowd at The Bri­tan­nia. What­ever the re­sult, when he re­turns home to his girl­friend, he’ll also be greeted by pet dog Ronnie.

‘No, he’s not named af­ter Ron­aldo,’ he smiles. ‘When we first got him we were watch­ing snooker and Ronnie O’Sullivan was play­ing!’

My dog Ronnie is named af­ter O’Sullivan, not Cris­tiano


Promis­ing: Lee (left) scores his only United goal against Crewe in 2006

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