“He’s a player who has come through the system here, and I’ve known him since he was a young player, he has great qualities, and a player who has the soul of the club in his heart”.
Strong words indeed from the new manager, but I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that having ‘the soul of the club in his heart’ is Spearing’s strongest quality and is, unfortunately, not enough.
Before Rodgers came to the club, before Dalglish returned to the club and even before Hodgson took over from Benitez in 2010, I was always of the opinion that Spearing wasn’t going to cut it.
I wanted him to prove me wrong, just as I did with Carragher, Thompson, Mellor, Partridge and numerous other young, promising academy lads that have come through and got a chance in the first team over the years but Carragher is, thus far, the only one that started off slowly and went from strength to strength.
One thing that all of those player I’ve mentioned had in common was an unquenchable desire to do well at their local club. They wanted nothing more than to succeed and showed pride in the shirt, effort, willingness and… passion. We’re English, so that’s an important trait. Sadly, it means nothing if it’s not backed up by a Premier League standard ability.
At the age of 23 (he turns 24 in November), Spearing has made little over 50 first team appearances for Liverpool. Last season was his most successful, if you look purely at appearances, but that was primarily down to Lucas’s untimely injury. I wrote over the weekend that one of the reasons that last season was a failure was because we failed to replace Lucas in January. Surely the biggest indictment of Spearing’s ability is that he failed to adequately stand-in for the player he is – still – effectively the understudy to.
A brief look at his performances last season shows a number of things about Spearing’s attributes: he’s always willing, he’ll run himself into the ground for the Red shirt and he is always available to receive the ball from a team-mate. But at times, he’ll drift away from his position to receive that ball, leaving his team-mates exposed, and he’ll often lose that same ball because he demanded it from a player when he wasn’t in an area to give the team an advantage. Basically, what I’m saying is, is that for all his willing running and effort, his range of passing is limited and he lacks game intelligence.
Having watched the game on Saturday, though it is still early days, it was noticeable how much Jay often looked lost. He tried and his passing had improved on last season, but he seemed adrift in the midfield that was expected to retain possession for long periods of the match. Rodger’s style generally relies heavily on patience and possession. Both of these often go hand-in-hand. If a team just passes and passes without any direction, the ball will usually be lost before long but Rodgers employs an intricate passing game that requires his players to show patience and intelligence; only picking out the passes that make sense and reducing the amount of ‘speculative’ passes that often are the mark of the ‘long-ball’ game.
It’s clear though, that if Spearing is anything, he’s a direct understudy to Lucas and perhaps it is the comparison between the two that means things reflect more unfavourably on Spearing. Last season (prior to injury), Lucas had a pass-completion rate of just over 85%, whereas Spearing was almost 10 percent short of this on 76% for the season overall. Similarly, Lucas hit 76% tackle success-rate, compared to 66% for Jay by the season’s end.
But it is generally accepted that Lucas and Gerrard are the first-choice pair and with Joe Allen looking likely to sign at some point this week, it would look more likely to become a triumvirate, so really Spearing is up against the remaining central midfielder’s in the squad: Aquilani, Shelvey, Cole, Adam, Henderson, so he really does have his work cut out for him if he is to even get a place on the bench.
Saturday, though, showed that there is a possibility for Spearing to improve under Rodgers, finishing his 45 minutes against Toronto with 46 of 49 passes completed successfully. Given what I’ve already said, it would seem to indicate that Spearing is maybe capable of adapting to Rodger’s high-brow concepts of how football should be played but in the end, it was just 45 minutes, and a season is a long time, so only time will tell really.
I suspect that Spearing will be given a full season under Rodgers, and maybe he deserves to show what he can do. Sadly for Jay, I can’t see him getting many opportunities next season, unless one or two midfielders are shipped out and even then, there’ll still be a long line of others waiting for their chance; a queue of talent that all appear to possess the technical attributes that Rodgers looks for. But, despite the vague praise from Rodgers for Spearing, whether it’s this summer, January or in a year’s time, I see him being moved on before too long.