Lee Sharpe is relaxing on the balcony at his home in Spain, soaking up the sunshine and reflecting on a career which saw him win three league titles with Manchester United and eight England caps.
Sharpe, a boyhood Aston Villa fan who stood on the Holte End watching his heroes win the European Cup in 1982, was at Birmingham City as a teenager before being shown the door.
He subsequently joined Torquay United before being signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in June 1988 and making his debut three months later aged 17.
The classy left winger was part of the United side who won the club’s first top-flight championship in 26 years in the first season of the Premier League in 1992-93.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have had the life I’ve had,” Sharpe, 51, tells The Sportsman.
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“As a kid I was a Villa fan and the 1981-82 European Cup-winning team were my heroes; the likes of Gordon Cowans, Peter Withe, Tony Morley and Gary Shaw.
“I loved Morley in particular and I went in the Holte End a few times and saw him running at defenders.
“The whole crowd just surged forward and the noise levels went up. I just thought ‘that’s what I want to do with my life’.”
And so he did, moving to Torquay after being released by Birmingham.
Sharpe adds: “I got let go as a schoolboy at Birmingham City and joined Torquay, moving hundreds of miles from home as a 16-year-old to play in the Fourth Division.
“They had only just avoided relegation and had they gone down then I wouldn’t have had a job in the first place.
“To then, within three or four months, go to a club like Manchester United and be in the first team, I was totally in awe of the place.
“Living in Manchester, with the music scene at the time, was incredible and the whole city was booming.
“I look back at old videos of United games when I played and think ‘that’s not me!’ I can’t even believe it happened.”
Sharpe played a key part in United’s success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990–91 before their era of domestic dominance under Ferguson began in 1992-93.
“What were the highlights of my time at Manchester United? There were so many, it was ridiculous,” says Sharpe with a huge smile.
“The Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1991, beating Barcelona 2-1, was a catalyst for the club.
“We went into that game as underdogs and came out as winners, which boosted everyone’s confidence.
“To then win the league for the first time in 26 years in May 1993 was phenomenal.
“On an individual basis, scoring a hat-trick at Highbury in the League Cup in November 1990 and the back-heel against Barcelona in the Champions League was amazing.
“We won the league three times when I was at United and also finished runners-ups twice, so there was always that pressure and excitement when the run-in approached.
“Every season was amazing and we had something to play for right at the death.”
Ferguson, the legendary manager who Sharpe made his name under, stepped down in May 2013 after 26 years in charge.
The Scot won 38 trophies during his reign at Old Trafford and United have since fallen from grace, with a number of managers failing to scale the heights he reached.
But with Erik ten Hag having arrived from Ajax, Sharpe is quietly optimistic about the forthcoming campaign.
That contrasts with the general consensus among Manchester United, who fans are one of the least optimistic group of supporters heading into the new Premier League season, according to a survey.
The Sky Bet Fan Hope Survey asked fans from all 20 Premier League clubs to share their levels of optimism for the 2022/23 campaign on a scale of one-10 (one being not optimistic at all, 10 being very).
But despite the arrival of Ten Hag at Old Trafford and new signings on their way, confidence levels are not high amongst the Red Devils fanbase, who are ranked 17th in the table with a score of 5.8.
Sharpe, who also won two FA Cups during his time at United, adds: “Everybody was under the assumption that when Fergie went it was going to be a difficult rebuild to emulate what he had done.
“He’d done so much consistently over 26 years and won so many trophies, it was incredible.
“I don’t think anybody could have foreseen that it was going to take this long and get this bad before it became good again.
“There has been a bit of disorganisation at the top in terms of the managers they have picked – I don’t think they have quite got it right.
“But Ten Hag comes in with what seems a very focused, regimented style of play and the players are already saying he’s one of these blokes who is all about the finer detail.
“While Holland is not as strong as the Premier League, Ajax scored plenty of goals and we know the sort of football he wants to play.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves because it’s pre-season and it’s all about fitness at the moment, but you can already see the different style of play, the tempo and the work-rate.
“One of the most disappointing things last year was the stats on work-rate – they were working less than any other team they played.
“You’re going to struggle for success if you’re not going to match your opponent for work-rate.
“That’s what fans ask for – if you’re not playing well, just give 100% and they will back you.
“I don’t think we saw that last year but, under Ten Hag, that’s the least we will be seeing.
“I believe United will be working their socks off this year.
“Because of the decade United are coming out of, there is this hunger for optimism. But I think with good reason.”
Cristiano Ronaldo still wants out but Sharpe says: “Either way, I think it works for United.
“If Ronaldo stays, then they’ve got his goals, work ethic in training and other players can aspire to be like him.
“But also if he leaves, as good and powerful as he is, I think it allows others a bit of freedom to express themselves and have a bit more of a chance to shine.”
Family man Sharpe, meanwhile, a married father of two, is bidding to progress his professional golfing career and also runs ‘Sharpey’s Sports Bar’ in Spain.
Sharpe explains: “I got into golf when I joined United and a few of us would play.
“There was a local golf pro who I knocked about with for 10 or 12 years.
“Fergie didn’t like us playing golf because he said it could damage your back and tire your legs out.
“He wanted us to go home and watch telly, so we used to have to sneak off and play golf in different places – and I just got a bit obsessed with it.
“The idea was that the golf pro I knocked about with years ago, he was going to qualify to go on the European tour and I was going to qualify as an amateur.
“I’ve taken it one step further and said ‘I’ll try and qualify for the seniors tour, the over 50s, and see where I can get to’. Life is really good at the moment.”
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