Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Paul Leeman still leading by example on the big stage

Paul Leeman has been one of Crusaders' top performers this season

Football remains a team game but sometimes the individual journeys players embark on in their career can make fascinating reading.

Some players assemble more clubs than Rory McIlroy while the 'one club man' such as Linfield legend Noel Bailie or Manchester United's Ryan Giggs are a rare breed.

I was reflecting on some the fascinating journeys players take when I looked into the history of former Glenavon player Ryan-Zico Black.

The Guernsey man shared the Maracana pitch with his legendary Brazilian namesake last month – not a bad Christmas present.

Now aged 32, you might expect the man who plays for Ryman League South side Guernsey FC to have a busy CV but his list of clubs was extraordinary.

Take a deep breath and try to keep up – Southampton, Bournemouth, Morecambe, Northwich Victoria, Glenavon, Lancaster City, Kettering Town, Lancaster City, Barrow, Lancaster City, Bamber Bridge, Sunshine George Cross, Morwell Pegasus, Bamber Bridge, Fylde, Rossendale United, San Fulgencio, Vale Recreation and Guernsey FC.

Apologies Ryan if I have missed one out!

We have a few Irish League players with an intriguing cub history including Glenavon striker Guy Bates.

Guy's back catalogue reads Newcastle United, Newcastle Jets, Darlington, K.V. Oostende 24, Drogheda United, La Louvière, Drogheda United again, Blyth Spartans and Glenavon.

Meanwhile, Crusaders defender Paul Leeman only made one big move in his career but it remains an intriguing one.

In May, 2011, then Glentoran boss Scott Young allowed 'Leeper' to leave the club. At the time Young highlighted the need for Glentoran to cut its costs.

Leeman spent 15 years at the club and he was just three games shy of making his 600th appearance for the east Belfast side.

He captained the side to Irish League and cup triumphs and he was a Glentoran man, proud to wear the jersey after growing up close to The Oval and being educated at nearby Mersey Street Primary School.

He was the fourth generation of his family to play for the Glens.

Perhaps managers letting players leave can be as much as gamble as signing a player.

It's water under the bridge now and all sides have moved on.

Thankfully, Leeman banished thoughts of retiring and discovered a new lease of life at Crusaders, returning to The Oval to win the Setanta Cup and also clinching the League Cup in the 2011-2012 season.

Managers and clubs make big calls and have to live with the consequences.

My one regret is that Paul wasn't afforded the chance to say an emotional farewell to everyone at Glentoran in a similar fashion to another long serving defender, Colin Nixon.

Stung by the pain of his Glentoran exit, he has perhaps set out with the personal goal of proving a point to his old employers.

Today, as he celebrates his 36th birthday, Crusaders fans are grateful he is still producing man of the match performances and hungry for silverware.

And who could argue that Leeman and Colin Coates aren't the best defensive partnership in the Danske Bank Premiership when Crusaders have conceded less goals than anyone else?

Crues boss Stephen Baxter has offered Paul a new contract and although he has battled injuries in recent campaigns and has ambitions to take on a coaching role, he's likely to extend his career with the Hatchetmen.

What Baxter gained when Leeman signed for the Crues was not only a superb defender but someone with a wealth of experience.

On Saturday he could get his hands on another prize when the Crues take on Cliftonville in the Wasp Solutions League Cup decider at Solitude.

Fireworks beside the Waterworks and Leeman will be there, still on the big stage – where he belongs.

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