I’m going to start off with the most terrible analogy that you’ve doubtless heard variations of down at the pub with your mates. A couple of years ago I signed Jay Spearing on Football Manager and he blossomed into an incredible midfielder who helped win me titles and trophies, left right and centre.
And like Jay Spearing, John Welsh was also a reliable lynchpin on which I based my virtual managerial success. The reality of it though, away from the PC, is that Jay Spearing may be more akin to the real life John Welsh of Tranmere Rovers at the moment.
Yes it’s a computer game, and no, I’m not looking to criticise a local lad whose first-team chances are limited. But this article by the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor, posted shortly after Manchester United’s dull stalemate away at Marseille, got me thinking. For those too rushed off their feet to read it, I’ll sum it up – the article gives a lot of weight to Giovanni Trapattoni’s view that Gibson must leave United to have any sort of a career in football.
Mr. Taylor praises Gibson’s commitment and enthusiasm, as well as his plucky never-say-die attitude that has seen him drift in and out of the United first team. But he gives a damning assessment of Gibson’s performance on the night, suggesting that he is nowhere near fit enough to be a long-term replacement for Paul Scholes when the curtain inevitably falls on his career.
‘Functional’, Mr. Taylor describes him as. And as much as it pains me, I can’t help making comparisons in that article of Gibson’s time at United with Spearing’s at Liverpool – especially with the fascinating emergence of right back Martin Kelly.
Taylor says in his article: “Here’s the thing: this is not some kid trying to make a name for himself. Gibson is 24 later this year and at that age, it is no good talking about potential or of him learning the game; he should be imposing his personality on football matches as the norm rather than the exception.
“Consider the fact it is five years since Gibson made his debut, in a Carling Cup tie against Barnet, and that there has never been one concerted spell since when he has given the impression of establishing himself in the team for good.”
Spearing made his first-team debut in 2008, and as far as I’m concerned, couldn’t have had a better chance of breaking through at Liverpool than in the first half of this season. With injuries stifling Gerrard, Meireles finding his feet before his incredible goal-scoring run, Mascherano leaving in the summer and the fans booing Poulsen off the pitch, Spearing had a real chance to force his way into the reckoning and show everyone some Wallasey grit.
After all, the fabulous Martin Kelly has sent England’s first-choice right back running scared into a left wing back position and kept him there for the foreseeable. Kelly has seized his chance and impressed everybody so much that it’s hard to imagine him out of the team over the next month while he recovers from his recent injury.
Kelly’s emergence and the buzz around Raheem Sterling, no matter how premature, have seen Spearing slip back into the shadows. But that’s not to criticise his performances – he’s been reliable when he’s come on and done his job. But he hasn’t looked like keeping his place, and performances such as Kelly’s are making me wonder why.
You could argue that managerial changes haven’t helped, but Kelly has earned all-round praise when playing under Benitez, Hodgson and Dalglish. Spearing’s praise, though more robust for the role he plays, has never been as glowing and you have to wonder whether another season on loan would benefit him, especially when talk of Aquilani making a homecoming might make his opportunities even more limited than they already are.
I really hope that Spearing has a successful future at Anfield, because he looks like a battering ram and would snap the likes of Drogba in two should he start his antics. But unless he starts playing to a consistent level and grabbing his chances with both hands, then he might find himself going the way of Guthrie sooner rather than later…