EVEN as a teenager Tom Lees looked to be captaincy material.
Little fazed the Warwick-born defender as he proved when waiting one summer’s evening for the signal from the fourth official to head on to the pitch as a substitute to make his first appearance for Leeds United on English soil.
United were at Bury’s Gigg Lane for a pre-season friendly and it was a moment Lees, who had spent the previous season on loan at Accrington Stanley, had dreamed about for a long time.
However, just as he was waved on to replace Leigh Bromby, Bury manager Alan Knill strolled over and said in the defender’s ear: “Don’t get injured, I am signing you later this week.”
Lees knew there was a chance he would be sent out on loan again after a successful spell at Accrington in 2009-10, but he had no idea the Shakers were even interested.
Some youngsters would have been unsettled by Knill’s revelation. But not Lees who, despite Leeds losing heavily that night, put in a nerveless shift against a club who he would, indeed, join just a few days later and then subsequently help to promotion.
Fast-forward a little over eight years and the then 19-year-old is now captain of Sheffield Wednesday. Those who have followed his career path from those early days are not surprised in the slightest.
As for the man himself, he is relishing the role. “Captaincy is a bit different,” Lees told The Yorkshire Post. “I have had it before, but only on a match-day when it was more about the 90 minutes than anything else.
“Now it is throughout the week. I don’t try and change too much. I was pretty vocal anyway and got on well with everyone, trying to help the squad as much as I could. Nothing changes in things like that.
“It is about taking responsibility, at a time this season when things will be that little bit more difficult. It needs people to stand up. We have to give our biggest effort.
“The captaincy is a huge honour. Everywhere you go you always bump into a Wednesday fan. It is such a big club, a global thing.
“Look at the players who have done it in the past and that makes it something I will always be able to take with me.”
Watching Lees in the midweek win over Millwall brought proof that the armband does, indeed, suit him.
He netted what proved the winner with the kind of finish that any striker would have enjoyed, but it was the 27-year-old’s demeanour that most caught the eye, particularly when cajoling and encouraging a back four that contained two youngsters.
Matt Penney, making his full league debut at left-back, and Jordan Thorniley, like Lees someone who has had a loan spell at Accrington, may just be starting out.
But both put in accomplished displays as the Owls claimed three precious points.
Having Lees close at hand can only have helped the duo, who must have a good chance of retaining their places for today’s visit of Ipswich Town.
Lees, as someone who came up through the Leeds youth set-up and established himself in the Elland Road first team at 20, is a big fan of giving youth a chance.
“Look at the young lads against Sunderland,” he said, pointing to the 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light that has set up this coming Tuesday’s Carabao Cup second-round tie at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“What a fantastic experience for some of them. I thought they did really well. Big Fred (Nielsen) could be pleased with that clean sheet, but I thought they all did really well.
“Sometimes young players can be given a game because it is an idea to get some young players in the team.
“But the ones who played against Sunderland had shown in training that they are good enough. Not just this season, last season as well. It was nice to see them get a chance.
“It is great to see lads come through from the Academy. It keeps us on our toes and they are all good lads, too. That is nice. Makes you want them to do even better.”
Jos Luhukay’s team selection today will be fascinating. His decision to drop Fernando Forestieri, Atdhe Nuhiu and Sam Hutchinson for the midweek game with Millwall caused much consternation among Owls fans.
It was a huge risk, not least because defeat would have left Wednesday with their worst start since returning to the Championship in 2012 while piling further pressure on the club’s manager.
As it was Barry Bannan and Lees got the goals to cap a much-improved display in which Steven Fletcher was excellent along with Joey Pelupessy and Liam Palmer.
“We need goals from all over,” said Lees after finding the net for the first time since Easter Monday with a lovely finish from a tight angle.
“You can’t just rely on the forwards. We need the defence and midfield to do their bit.”
It is a big week for the Owls, who only had their transfer embargo lifted a little over a week ago. Holding on to their prized assets beyond Friday’s transfer deadline will be important.
Before then, though, there is both today’s game with Ipswich and then Tuesday’s mouth-watering second-round tie with last season’s runaway Championship title winners.
“It is always nice to play a Premier League side and be up against quality players,” Lees added about the tie with Wolves. “That is what you want.
“A cup run is good, though we do have a thinner squad than we have had in the past. I am not sure we are blessed with the numbers.
“We will enjoy it, but the league is the main thing. Having a win under our belts is great. Winning breeds confidence.”