Talented shot-stopper Paul Robinson could have been playing for York City had things turned out differently when he was a teenager.

Instead, the 21-year-old is making a name for himself for Leeds United, with a string of stunning displays against the world's best players.

The Minstermen's youth policy has proven itself one of the best in the lower divisions, with Stamford Bridge-based Robinson just one of a number of top 'keepers to have been involved in its youth set-up.

However, while Republic of Ireland international Dean Kiely made his name in City's first team and England Under-18s' Russ Howarth is building himself a reputation at Bootham Crescent, Robinson ultimately slipped through the Minstermen's fingers.

The Beverley-born stopper was on City's books as a youngster, training under centre of excellence coach Pete Glanville. But when it came to re-registration at under-14s level he instead chose to have a trial at boyhood idols Leeds.

Glanville said: "He was with us when we had a number of goalies about his age, including Nick Culkin (who was transferred to Manchester United in 1995 and is now on loan at Bristol Rovers), so we couldn't guarantee him a game.

"At the time Paul had had no specialist training and had not done much technically. He was okay but not outstanding, and was not as good as others we had then.

"He was always very keen, though, and he's physically matured very well, which is always difficult to predict.

"It's surprising that anyone can come on so quickly. But he's done tremendously and it's fantastic."

Robinson joined the Elland Road outfit after his trial, signing professional forms in 1997 aged 17 after helping the club lift the FA Youth Cup.

He again starred as the Leeds youngsters reached the semi-finals of the competition the next year, when ex-York City clubman of the year and football in the community officer Gordon Staniforth was in charge of Leeds' youth team.

"You could tell then that he was going to be a star," said the former Bootham Crescent favourite of Robinson, who made his first team debut against Chelsea in 1998.

"He's England material if he can keep his feet on the floor. He's got everything in his locker that you need to be an international 'keeper.

"He's a tremendous player and a lovely lad who works extremely hard in training."

Robinson, who has four years left on his Elland Road contract, returned to Bootham Crescent for a Leeds reserves match against Blackburn in August this year, and kept a clean sheet in a 4-0 win.

Staniforth added: "He's had a great chance to be Leeds' number two after Mark Beeney got injured (and was forced to retire with an Achilles problem in 1997), and to come in on the big stage and perform like he has done is a dream come true for him.

"Bearing in mind 'keepers don't mature until their late 20s, he's well ahead of his time."

Capped by England at Under-18 and Under-21 level, Robinson, whose dazzling display was a feature of Leeds' 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions' League on Tuesday, is being widely tipped for full England honours.

But the 6ft 4in star - who also won praise from Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson after shining in Leeds' 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Saturday following a clean sheet against Besiktas - is keeping his feet on the ground.

He made five stunning saves - four of them from World Footballer of the Year Rivaldo - against Barca before finally being beaten by the Brazilian in the fourth minute of injury time.

But he said modestly: "I doubt whether Nigel Martyn will struggle to get his place back when he is fit again because he has proved himself at this and international level.

"I am just filling a hole and doing my best while he is out."

However, Steve Sutton, goalkeeping coach to both men, said: "'If Paul keeps up the kind of performances he has given in his last three games he will cause the manager a problem as it will be difficult to drop him. I've not seen a better display from a 'keeper for a long time than the one Paul gave against Barcelona."

Leeds now need a point against AC Milan in the San Siro next month to make sure they qualify for the second group stage and Robinson said: "I think we can go to Milan and get a good result.

"We will set our stall out to win the match. I felt very low when Rivaldo's equaliser went in. Because the goal came so late it felt more like a defeat than a draw. It was a very quiet dressing room."