Image from: mlssoccer.com
Back in 2004, the then teenage Jonathan Spector did enough to convince Manchester United to bring him over to join their youth set up, mainly playing as a right back. He was unable to break into their first team though and was moved on to West Ham United just a couple of years later.
Spector was never able to nail down a place with the Hammers, despite showing his versatility with them, and after a spell which was mostly reminiscent for injuries and a lack of consistency, he dropped down to the Championship to join Birmingham City on a free transfer.
Nowadays Spector is seen as a defensive midfielder, where he can use his athleticism to get around the pitch providing defensive cover. There the weaknesses in his game that saw him struggle to hold down a place as a full back are less prominent.
The modern day full back tends to be a very technically accomplished player, with a lot of pace to get up and down the pitch while providing an attacking option. Spector lacks outright pace, he has not got the burst of acceleration to allow him to keep pacey opponents at bay in a one on one race down the line, and technically he is not top level.
In the centre of the pitch as a defensive midfielder, his lack of pace is not so important, as he is not facing opponents looking to burst past him on his own, there will usually be centre backs behind him. His role in the centre is just to stay goal side and harry an opponent into a mistake, in the main, and his fitness means he can keep up his work rate for the full 90 minutes.
While not known for his goalscoring, Spector does weigh in ocassionally with goals, but it is not a big part of his game. His vision is not particularly good, which sees him at his best when he just keeps things simple with his passing, moving it on quickly to the more creative members of the team.
His utility may well have cost him, as he has never really been able to develop the positional sense required to raise his game to the next level, when you watch him, you always get the sense he is a full back covering in the centre or a midfielder covering at full back. He has never really been able to figure out his position totally, which is always a risk when you are capable of playing a number of roles.
Because of this, he will always be a fringe player in a strong team, though it has not stopped him getting 34 caps for USA, he could have been so much more. Allowed the chance to settle in and specialise in one single role, and really develop his positional sense and awareness and he could have been playing at the top end of the Championship/bottom end of the Premier League, instead of with a struggling Championship side.
Like many players from the US, his work rate and athleticism are never in doubt, but the lack of quality in technique and touch will always hold him back. At 29 it is too late for him to make a step up in class now, sadly he will always be one of those players that had the potential to be more but never got to maximise it.
Written by Tris Burke
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