Leeds ready for another glimpse of the flash boy

Ten years on, Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon returns to Elland Road

You have to go back fully 10 years for the last time Aaron Lennon played in a Leeds v Tottenham fixture, but it is an occasion he will not have forgotten. It was August 2003, and when he stepped on to the White Hart Lane pitch as a 78th-minute replacement for Mark Viduka aged 16 years and 129 days, he became, for a time, the youngest player in the Premier League.

That statistic is a reminder of the precocity of the Leeds lad with turbochargers in the boots he already had a sponsorship deal for at 14 when coming through the academy at Elland Road, his teenage field of dreams and the place to which he returns for the first time as a Tottenham player in today's FA Cup fourth-round tie.

Lennon was a raw talent then but what he had, recalls Eddie Gray, was "that flash that made you think he was going to be a player". Flash was the operative word. "When he picked the ball up he could always go by two or three players as if they were standing still," adds Gray, a man whose own credentials as a winger in Don Revie's great Leeds team need no retelling, but also a man who, as Leeds's caretaker manager for six months in 2003-04, monitored Lennon's baby steps in the first team.

Gray remembers Lennon then as a quiet, reserved character. "Aaron worked hard but at times he could be a bit moody if he didn't think things were going for him, if he thought he should be in a team [when] he wasn't." He also had to learn on the pitch, where "his final ball was not the best".

Happily for Tottenham, who signed Lennon in 2005 for a bargain fee of £500,000 rising to £1 million, Lennon did learn, although the talent that earned him trips to the 2006 and 2010 World Cups has never attained such a consistent level of expression as this season under Andre Villas-Boas. Gray sees a confident, mature player today.

"When you look at him now, he gets his head up more when he's on the ball," says Gray. "He has a better knowledge of how to get into the game and how to get away from defenders. Aaron can drift about the pitch now and link up with front people, drift into the midfield area and start things from there." With his low centre of gravity, he could already twist, turn and wrong-foot defenders, but is now as threatening running inside his man as out.

Lennon has been an ever-present in Spurs' 2012-13 League campaign – making as many appearances already as in the whole of last season, when he was affected by hamstring problems – and the 25-year-old's senior status in the dressing room was underlined when "Azzer" captained the team for the first time against Lazio in September, the same month he signed a new four-year contract.

Moreover, he is Tottenham's leading goal-maker in the Premier League with six assists after keeping a cool head to tee up Clint Dempsey for the last-gasp equaliser against Manchester United last weekend, a performance which showed opposition managers that even if they keep Gareth Bale quiet, they now face an equally potent threat on the other flank.

Gary Mabbutt, the former Spurs defender, says: "I was at the game last weekend and [Patrice] Evra will be having nightmares about the way Lennon was going past him." For Mabbutt, the last Tottenham captain to lift the FA Cup, in 1991, Lennon is becoming "the complete winger". He explains: "I played with some great wingers in my time at Tottenham, the likes of David Ginola and Chris Waddle. He's getting himself into that bracket."

He adds: "Overall in the past maybe people have questioned first of all his consistency and sometimes not being able to pick out the final pass, but this season Aaron has been very consistent. When he loses the ball he gets his head down, chases back and works hard to try and regain possession."

Mabbutt is surprised that Lennon is not an England regular; his outing against San Marino in October's World Cup qualifier was his first cap since the 2010 World Cup. On current form he seems certain to feature against Brazil at Wembley next month, yet thoughts of England can wait. Elland Road beckons.

Lennon seldom speaks to the press, but when the draw was made, he tweeted excitedly: "I can't wait, feel like a little kid already." That may be so, but the kid is now a man in his prime.

Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur is on ESPN today, kick-off 2pm

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
Fungi pose the biggest threat globally and in the UK, where they threaten the country’s wheat and potato harvests
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone