They call him "Roadrunner" at Tottenham Hotspur and, like the cartoon character that proved so hard to catch, Aaron Lennon proved against Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday night that the best wingers are the hardest to catch. At 19, he is the youngest player to have represented England at the World Cup finals this summer and is quietly establishing himself as the squad's secret weapon.
Where Theo Walcott was supposed to bloom, Lennon has flourished. An unassuming presence in the squad, he is the only one of the 23 players who has not brought a wife or a girlfriend to Germany, instead spending the time he has away from football in Baden-Baden with his brother Anthony. But in the 30 minutes he played in Nuremberg, Lennon showed that he is at the very top of the list of Eriksson's impact substitutes.
His introduction alongside Wayne Rooney on 58 minutes meant that, not for the first time since he was named in Eriksson's squad last month, Lennon was not the centre of attention. But with Beckham moved to the full-back role to accommodate Lennon, the Tottenham man immediately gave England the width that they had lacked and the pace to attack Trinidad & Tobago.
It will have been a proud moment for his father, Winston, a former amateur footballer, who still drives a minicab in Leeds despite his son's emergence as an international footballer. He traces his roots back to Jamaica, the country against whom Lennon made his debut at Old Trafford on 3 June. Lennon also qualified to play for the Republic of Ireland through his mother, Moira, but while they made tentative enquiries, he had already established himself in England's junior teams.
Lennon is the player upon whom Eriksson gambled and, it appears, has already won. Leaving out Shaun Wright-Phillips to include him on the basis of form alone was one of the England manager's less-heralded decisions after the debates over Rooney and Walcott, yet Eriksson would appear to have been proved right. "I think as a player he showed he will be knocking very hard on the door," Eriksson said. "He came on and did very well, beating people and opening the game up."
A football prodigy from the age of 10, Lennon was the youngest player ever to sign for adidas - at the age of 14. He was contracted to the Leeds United academy at 15 and turned professional at 17. In between, he made his debut for Leeds in the Premiership aged 16 years and 129 days, a record that still stands as the youngest player to play in the league.
But it was not until this season that he truly came of age at Tottenham, signed for £1m from Leeds in the summer he may just qualify as the bargain of last year. Despite his progress with Leeds in the Championship he was still rejected by a number of Premiership clubs who cited his height - hardly a towering 5ft 5in - as an obstacle to his development, now he is seen about as Beckham's natural successor on the right wing for England.
The last of the great generation of Leeds academy players led by Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate, Lennon grew up in the city. He was developed by Peter Reid who, during his time in charge of the club, threw the player into first-team action despite his young age. Lennon had followed his brother Anthony, who signed to Manchester United and then Leeds as a youth team player, to Elland Road.
As his development gathered pace, Lennon played for England at Under-16, 17, 18 and 21 levels before starting in the B international against Belarus on 25 May. He was the one bright light on a strange night for England's shadow XI, a marauding confident figure on the right side. When Eriksson needed a player to unlock T&T, it will have been that performance he remembered.
In March, Lennon was rewarded with a new contract by Tottenham that keeps him at the club until 2010 which, on the basis of his latest performance that appears to have been a wise measure. "People do not know much about him," was one of Eriksson's arguments for including Lennon - it is an outlook that is changing with every game for England's Roadrunner.Reuse content