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'Living the dream again!' - Why 33-year-old Spearing is back at Liverpool and playing for the Under-21s

09:12 BST 12/07/2022
Jay Spearing training
In an exclusive interview with GOAL, Jay Spearing says he is 'on top of the world' after returning to the club that raised him

If you happen to bump into Jay Spearing any time soon, you can be sure he’ll have a spring in his step, and a great big smile on his face.

“I’ve literally not stopped!” Liverpool’s latest academy coach tells GOAL, the grin widening as he speaks. “Even now talking about it, it gives me a shiver down my spine. I’m absolutely on top of the world.”

He has good reason to be, as well. At 33, he is back where it all began and back at Liverpool, having taken on an innovative role which will see him work full-time as a coach with the Reds’ U18 side, while simultaneously lining out as an overage player for the Under-21s when required. 

“A no-brainer” is how Spearing describes the decision to call time on his 15-year professional career. He had offers to carry on playing – including a contract extension at Tranmere, where he spent the past two seasons and “loved every minute” – but a meeting with Alex Inglethorpe, Liverpool’s academy manager, in February, changed everything.

“I’d been in for about two years doing the U15s and U16s, while I did my UEFA ‘A’ licence,” Spearing says.

“Then, one day Alex called me in and said ‘Can I have a word?’ I was thinking ‘Have I done something wrong?’ but he just sprung it on me and asked me if I’d be interested in a player-coach role.

“It caught me by surprise, obviously. My head was still focused on playing, but I went away and did a bit of investigating, and I quickly realised it wasn’t something I could walk away from. There were just too many positives.”

Liverpool are not the first club to experiment with this kind of ‘hybrid’ role. Spearing cites the examples of Paul McShane, Manchester United’s ‘professional development coach’, Olly Lancashire at Southampton and Andrew Crofts, who is now head coach of Brighton’s U23 side.

“I actually spoke to McShane before I said yes to the job,” Spearing says. “He said it was a great decision for him. 

“I spoke to Neil Danns as well. He’s been doing bits and bobs at the [Liverpool] academy, but he said he wished he’d accepted something full-time.

“People say you should carry on playing as long as you can, but when an opportunity like this comes along, it changes everything. I just couldn’t say no.”

Spearing spent 15 years at Liverpool as a player, having being spotted playing for Greenleas FC in Wallasey at the age of seven. He made 55 first-team appearances at Anfield, starting in the FA Cup final at Wembley and picking up a League Cup winners’ medal in 2012. 

After leaving in 2013, he played for Bolton, Blackburn, Blackpool and then Tranmere, racking up more than 450 senior games and picking up experience that he and Inglethorpe feel will be priceless in this new role.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in this game,” he smiles. “I’ve experienced highs, lows, promotions, relegations. I’ve worked under different managers and different owners, and seen just about everything you could wish to see.

“I hope that I can use those experiences as a coach. My main role, to start with, is to get in and amongst the lads, set the standards on the training ground, and try and show them what it takes to be a professional footballer.

“But I also hope they’ll feel they can speak to me too, that I can offer advice with certain things. I’ll never tell them what they should or shouldn’t do with their career, but I can share my experiences from 15 years in the professional game and hopefully help them on their own journey.”

Spearing has already had his first run out for the U21s, playing 45 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Caernarfon Town at Kirkby on Saturday, and says he has been “like a sponge” in his first fortnight in the job, watching and learning as well as smiling.

“I watched Pep Lijnders take an U21s session – what a privilege that was!” he says. “To learn what they do at first-team level, and why, how many people get that kind of insight? 

“The other day we watched clips of them, their formation and how they get into it, how they create overloads, things like that, and then afterwards we went and worked on it. 

“That’s what these young players have to do; if they are going to step up and even train with the seniors, they’re going to have to know what Jurgen wants. 

“It’s a great challenge for me. I’ve gone full circle, starting from learning the Liverpool Way as a youngster, to now having to do it again as a coach. I’m 33 but I’m still learning.”

Spearing speaks with the kind of focus and enthusiasm which makes you believe he will make a success of his new career, and he could hardly be starting out at a better club, given the top-level coaches to have emerged at Liverpool in recent years.

Steven Gerrard, his former team-mate, is the biggest name, of course, but how about Neil Critchley, his assistant at Aston Villa? Or Michael Beale, who has just taken over at Queens Park Rangers?

Lijnders has been a key part of Liverpool’s success, Steve Cooper has just led Nottingham Forest back to the Premier League, Rodolfo Borrell is now Pep Guardiola’s No.2 at Manchester City and Mike Marsh is assistant to Ryan Lowe at Blackburn – all cut their teeth with Liverpool’s U16s, U18s or U23 sides. 

Spearing spoke to Gerrard before taking the job. 

“He told me that when he first started out coaching, he made so many mistakes, but the key is to make them behind closed doors,” he says. 

“That’s why he started out here, so he could learn and improve. It was Klopp’s advice to him. 

“You have to listen to people like that. They are the ones who know the game inside out. What he’s done has given me drive, not necessarily to follow in his footsteps as such – because who can follow in Steven Gerrard’s footsteps?! – but definitely to go on my own journey, and hopefully have a long career in the game.”

Spearing’s dad, Keith, cried when his son told him he was packing in playing, but in a Liverpool-daft family, there is only pride at what he achieved in his career, and excitement at the new adventure he is embarking on.

“The other day I was in a shop with my daughter, who is seven,” Speaking says. “A lad came up to me and wanted to speak about me being back at Liverpool. 

“When he went, I could see her looking at me, and I could see she was proud. I know my mum and dad are the same.

"They were there when I first went to the academy at seven, and they were there for pretty much every game after that. They know what that club means to me…”

So what does it mean to him?

“Everything,” he says. “I’m Liverpool born and bred. The club is everything to me.

“I’ve got that Liver Bird tattooed on my body. I’ve followed the club everywhere in the world, I’ve played for them and now I’m coaching them. 

“I lived the dream as a kid and now I’m living it again as an adult. Not many people get a chance to do that, do they?”