From: Watford FC Academy
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: Somewhere else
Past profiles: June 2004, February 2003
Truth is, I should've written this about six weeks ago. I promised, sincerely and with hand on heart...and then, just as finger was
poised above keyboard, DataCo came a-calling and
poor Richard Lee was forgotten entirely amid kerfuffle and palaver. All of which comprises a metaphor for the young keeper's current
situation so obvious that I'll just point it out in passing, like a tour conductor on an open top bus.
My own inefficiency aside, there's a more fundamental problem with this profile: Richard Lee isn't here. He hasn't been since the summer,
when he went on loan to Blackburn Rovers - or Blackburn Rovers Reserves, to be more accurate - for the season in a move that had appeared
inevitable since Ben Foster's arrival from Manchester United. That is, the move had appeared inevitable, but its manner was anything
but: by and large, League clubs don't loan their players to their infinitely richer Premiership counterparts, for, in these times of ultra-trim
squads, they simply don't have anybody to spare. Still less do they loan their bright young starlets, for it hardly increases their value to
make it so abundantly obvious that they're surplus to requirements. Nor does it advance their careers to be knocking around in the unmapped
regions of squads so large that they've probably only seen the manager on telly when they could be playing proper, competitive football at
home. It doesn't happen.
But it did happen. And therein lies our final concern: Richard Lee's absence, inseparable from Ben Foster's presence, isn't one of those things
that anyone has a vague, unconsidered opinion on. It's something that requires a position. The manager, after all, has made his
personal position abundantly clear: amid all of the usual waffle, the stark, blunt truth is that he doesn't rate Richard Lee enough to want to
keep him. There's no way back from here, surely: either Blackburn take the option to buy him for half a million quid in the summer or he's on
his way to somewhere else. Whatever else, Adrian Boothroyd certainly isn't slow to make a decision....
Nor should anyone be slow to take an equally assertive position. A healthy football club has healthy and, to borrow Graham Simpson's favourite
word, "robust" discussions on such matters, without irreparable fall-out as a consequence. Besides, young Adrian seems like he can handle himself
all right, if necessary; as an irrelevant aside, it seems safe to assume that no-one's referring to him as a "puppet" any more....
So, in the knowledge that others see it very differently, here's my take on it: sending one of our most highly rated youngsters to Cov...sorry, Blackburn...for twelve months and replacing him with
another youngster who we have no apparent prospect of signing is a quite extraordinary nonsense. Prior to the decision being taken - at which point,
inevitably, people tried to find a variety of ways to justify it - it was simply inconceivable. Unarguably,
Richard Lee was one of the club's prized assets, valued and cherished. Literally so, for no-one ever bothered to argue about it.
Lovely bloke, apparently. Lovely enough to be found in the stand at Preston on Saturday, singing along with everyone else. Not sure that I'd
be so magnanimous, were places swapped. Terrific keeper too. Despite considerable misfortune with broken bones, he'd finally established himself as the club's
first choice following some splendid performances during the team's bright start to the 2004/05 season. True, he didn't quite recover his
form when he returned to a sinking ship after breaking his cheekbone...but still, there was never the slightest question that he represented a
future that we were pretty comfortable with. Proud of, even. In short, it wasn't broke and it didn't need fixing.
Naturally, we've since searched hard for flaws that couldn't really be found in the flesh. No, he isn't the tallest...but even that
had its compensations, particularly in a fleet-footed agility that sometimes made difficult saves look comparatively easy. It caused
surprisingly few problems too, and he was caught out on crosses no more than a taller keeper would've been. Um, has been. No, he wasn't
flawless: his decision-making could sometimes be a little rash, but you always got the sense that he was incredibly eager to learn, and that
he would do so rapidly. And no, his kicking wasn't anything special, but it always got the job done. Assuming that the job was to clear the
ball to safety.
Which brings us to his replacement. Really, it's hard not to be grossly unfair to Ben Foster in the process of pursuing another, distinct
argument. He doesn't deserve that. The comparison, however, is inevitable in the circumstances, for it's precisely the same comparison
that led the manager to send him out on loan in the first place and can no more be avoided than a hippo in a paddling pool. And here's
my take, for what it's worth: Richard Lee is a better all-round keeper than Ben Foster. For me, the latter simply makes too many basic,
unforced errors, mainly due to apparent lapses in concentration. His kicking, of course, is truly extraordinary and was undoubtedly a major
factor in making up the manager's mind back in August. At which point, I start to get all confused. Round my way, you don't call out a
plumber and then expect them to tap-dance into the bargain.
But then, I am frightfully old-fashioned....
Last updated: November 2005