TEN years ago, in an FA Youth Cup tie at Withdean, former Albion winger David Lee watched Shane Duffy score for an Everton side which also included Ross Barkley.

It was not the Republic of Ireland international now at the heart of the Seagulls' defence who caught his eye, or the Chelsea midfielder back in the England reckoning.

The player that stood out for Lee on that January night was Duffy's partner in Albion's back four.

Lewis Dunk could not stop the young Seagulls from sliding to a late 2-0 defeat but Lee knew he had witnessed something special.

A young talent who would outstrip his own journeyman career, ended by injury at the age of 28, with a host of clubs including Spurs, Southend, Hull and Albion.

Lee, Dunk's agent throughout his decade-long rise to Premier League regular and now a senior England call-up, said: "I can remember it clearly.

"He was aggressive in the air, attacked the ball really well for a kid. At 17, 18, academy players don't head it properly but he definitely did.

"He played with his head up, he could pass it for a big lad and he looked like he enjoyed defending, which you don't get a lot of. You get a lot of pretty ones that want to get on the ball but not many that want to stick their head and their bodies on the line. That's what stood out for me.

"I liked him and then I watched him when they played QPR away. He was outstanding. He must have blocked 20 shots on goal. He looked the part."

The Argus: Lee (above), together with Dunk's father Mark who played as a midfielder for numerous non-league Sussex clubs, has been a guiding force and trusted aid ever since their working relationship became official during a meeting at the Black Lion in Patcham.

Lee has always had faith in Dunk's ability to reach the top, despite the reservations of others.

He said: "When I first saw him if you'd told me he would play for England that's some going but when he got in the first team the first season at the Amex, I thought this kid could go all the way for sure.

"I'm not surprised. I've had massive arguments with heads of recruitment and scouts years ago. They were all saying to me he can't play in the Premier League, he's not ready, not good enough.

"I told them he would cope. Whatever scenario you throw him into he deals with it. I knew his laid-back character would help. He doesn't let the occasion get to him too much.

"I knew he would be fine and I knew the Premier League would suit him better, where you do get a little bit more time on occasions on the ball. It was just a matter of somebody taking a chance to get him.

"The Spurs guy loved him when he first got into the team and Arsenal were close to doing something at one point. It just never quite materialised so he had to prove himself with Brighton.

"I think he could go again if someone could see it. In a top team where you get more of the ball he will shine.

"Playing for Chris (Hughton) he has shown everyone he can defend. He can head it, tackle. He's still learning.

"I see him improving and working on things still which is great. Some lads at 26, 27, don't think they can learn anymore."

Dunk's call-up to Gareth Southgate's England squad for the Nations League matches away to Croatia last week and in Spain last night will further enhance his reputation.

Days earlier he signed another new five-year deal with Albion in tandem with Duffy.

"He's building a house at the moment in Hassocks," Lee said. "He obviously loves Brighton. You can tell the way he reacts when they have won a game. He loves the club.

"They have been great to him and he has rewarded them as well.

"He's happy. If top teams come along then it's a difficult one for the club and the boy but he might have a testimonial in a couple of years and we'll see what happens.

"There's no rush. Put it this way, he's not going to come to me and say 'Move me on', he never has.

"Tony (Bloom) has been great with him. Name another player in the Premier League who has signed five five-year contracts on the spin? I've never heard of it.

"Every year he has improved and they have looked after him, which is fantastic. I know Tony is very proud of having a homegrown player in the team."

Lee, who moved from Skillequal to the Stellar Group in April, is not alone as a former Albion player now representing one of the club's stars.

Robert Codner (below) looks after Solly March, while James Tunnicliffe represents Glenn Murray.

The Argus: Lee, 38, made a handful of appearances during Albion's 2003-04 League One promotion season under Mark McGhee.

"It's nice," he said. "I didn't play many (matches) at Brighton but I had a connection with the club. It was such a good club and set of lads. The spirit was unbelievable, the best I was ever involved in that's for sure.

"I've always had a soft spot for Brighton and from where the club has gone to from where it was is great. All credit to Tony. He's put his money where his mouth is."