Hearts are set to complete their fourth signing of the summer with the addition of Luton Town midfielder Olly Lee.
The 26-year-old was in attendance as Hearts defeated Hibs 2-1 at Tynecastle Park on Wednesday and will join on a free contract.
Joel Sked looks at what Hearts can expect from Lee...
Lee was a ‘late bloomer’
Up until the age of 15 Lee was playing Sunday league football. It all changed when he was taken to Wycombe Wanderers for a trial. Rather than sign for the Football League side, he was spotted by a West Ham United scout.
The midfielder has referred to himself as a “late bloomer”. But he quickly made a name for himself in the Hammers academy and captained the club’s under-18s.
However, Lee was unable to progress to become a member of the first-team, making the bench on only one occasion. He left on three loan spells before being released by Sam Allardyce, who was the West Ham manager at the time, aged 20.
• READ MORE: Hearts agree terms to sign Luton midfielder Olly Lee
The past season has been Lee’s best
Not uncommon in England’s Football League, Lee has racked up a number of clubs. During his time at West Ham he had two loan spells at Dagenham & Redbridge and one at Gillingham.
He made the move to north London side Barnet permanently where he played regularly before the arrival of Edgar Davids at the club. A trial at Birmingham City saw him sign on loan before it was made permanent.
He gained infrequent Championship experience before dropping down to League Two, getting game time with Plymouth Argyle.
It wasn’t until Lee signed for Luton Town that he found a settled home and regular first-team action.
This season has seen a marked improvement in the player’s output, netting six times and assisting a further five times to help the Hatters gain promotion to League One.
A change in position has helped
Luton Town have been the English Football League’s entertainers. Include the Premier League and only Manchester City have scored more goals than the Hatters’ 94.
Luton boss Nathan Jones’ attacking philosophy is fully ingrained in the club now, and Lee had his position altered, giving him more freedom and responsibility to attack, largely playing on the right of a midfield diamond.
It is something which suits his game and allowed him to thrive. In terms of passes to the final third, through passes and key passes - ones which lead to a shot - he sits in the top three at Luton. He’s fourth for number of passes.
But what will perhaps excite fans is his willingness to support the attack from midfield. His armoury includes a wicked and powerful shot, which he is not shy to use. Some fans may be thinking Paul Hartley and Colin Cameron but he is a more rangey operator combined with upper body strength which allows him to hold off opponents.
Fans may also be surprised by how nimble his touch is. He possesses great close control and is not afraid to attempt a piece of skill to bamboozle the opposition.
Defensive improvement is still required
On 28 August 2016 Lee was subbed after 28 minutes in a game against Cambridge United, a game which the Hatters would win 3-0.
Luton boss Nathan Jones was unhappy with the player’s defensive contribution, calling on the player to improve that side of his game.
“I think he does take it on board, it’s not something I haven’t told him since I’ve came here,” Jones said.
Nearly 18 months later and Jones hit out at his player again.
He said: “I’d rather see him working hard and putting tackles in and winning his 50/50s and out of possession being better.”
Subbed in the opening half hour of Luton’s 2-0 defeat at Chesterfield in January, Lee shrugged off his manager’s handshake. Jones was more concerned with his player’s application in the defensive phase of the game than the petulance.
He comes up with big and brilliant goals
By now many fans will likely have seen Lee’s incredible 70-yard goal during Luton’s 7-0 thumping of Cambridge United from this season.
He showed awareness and determination to win a tackle in the middle of midfield before demonstrating his vision and technique in spotting the goalkeeper out his box and launching a perfect effort from well inside his own half at Kenilworth Road into the back of the net.
What made it even more special was the fact he scored in a different postcode to where he hit the shot, such is a quirk of Luton’s home ground.
The goal earned him the EFL Goal of the Season award.
In 2015 his brilliant volley at Portsmouth for Plymouth Argyle was nominated for the club’s goal of the season award.
But few goals have been more memorable for Lee than the one he netted at Carlisle United in April to not only earn Luton a draw but also secure promotion.
He won over the Luton fans
In a 2-1 defeat at Colchester United in March 2017, Lee felt the wrath of the travelling Luton support. He won over some fans with the winner against Barnet a couple of weeks later.
This past season, however, saw him become a firm fan favourite, helped by memorable goals and slick attacking play. He even had his own chant from the terraces.
Lee said: “That’s massive for me to be honest. Obviously you try and say it doesn’t matter and all that, but it’s nice to have the fans backing you. When you’ve got eight, nine, 10 thousand singing your name, there’s no better feeling.”
He comes from a footballing family
Olly is son of Newcastle United legend Rob Lee.
Rob spent a decade at Newcastle where he played under Kevin Keegan and in the ‘Entertainers’ side which came close to winning the Premier League in 1996.
He won 21 England caps and also turned out for Charlton Athletic, Derby County and West Ham.
Olly honed his skills alongside Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Warren Barton and Shay Given in his back garden as a youngster. Newcastle players were frequent visitors to the Lee household where they’d all play small-sided games.
Olly’s brother Elliot is also a professional footballer and also plays for Luton, as a striker.. The younger brother by three years, Elliot has netted 10 times this season
Olly told The Telegraph: “I don’t know if it’s telepathy but we just enjoy playing with each other. Obviously, we used to play in the garden with our mates together and it’s always been the case that in training we tend to try and pass the ball to each other. Playing with your brother, you have to make the most of it because you don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
• READ MORE: Five talking points from Hearts 2-1 Hibs
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