Liverpool copying innovative Manchester United transfer trick to help next generation of stars

Jay Spearing is set to join Liverpool’s under-21s and it’s a strategy that’s been implemented by Manchester United, Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton in recent years.

<p>Paul McShane in action for Man Utd under-23s against Liverpool under-23s. Picture: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images</p>

Paul McShane in action for Man Utd under-23s against Liverpool under-23s. Picture: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

It’s not exactly an Anfield returnakin to Ian Rush or Robbie Fowler. Far from it.

And while sections of Kopites are clamouring for Jurgen Klopp to sign a midfielder during the summer transfer window, the player of that position who is arriving has definitely not been on their wish list.

Spearing return

Jay Spearing is set to re-sign for Liverpool, some nine years after his departure.

Having skippered the under-18s to FA Youth Cup glory in 2007 and been part of the Reds’ League Cup-winning squad in 2012, Spearing is reportedly heading back to his boyhood club.

However, the 33-year-old - who left Tranmere Rovers earlier this summer - isn’t going to be challenging Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho and Co. for a berth in Klopp’s engine room.

Instead, Spearing is poised to take up a dual role. He’ll coach in the academy ranks along with representing Liverpool’s under-21s as an overaged player.

Some may see it as a leftfield move from the Reds. There’s a case to be made he’ll be taking game-time from a fledgling midfielder and will stunt their development.

Jay Spearing in action for Liverpool during the 2012 FA Cup final. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images

However, it’s quite the opposite. Spearing is a Football League veteran who’ll set the standards of what’s required to make it as a professional.

After all, the majority of the youngsters won’t become first-team regulars at Anfield or even the Premier League.

Spearing’s a battle-hardened veteran, having featured for Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool and most recently Tranmere. The knowledge, advice and know-how he can impart will be invaluable.

Indeed, the mantle the Wallasey-born midfielder will take on is innovative - and something several of Liverpool’s rivals have already reaped rewards from.

‘This unique combination is invaluable’

Paul McShane came through the academy ranks at Manchester United before going on to represent the likes of Sunderland, Hull City, Crystal Palace and Reading.

The defender made a shock return to Old Trafford last summer at the age of 35 to link up with their under-23s after leaving Rochdale following their relegation to League Two.

On why McShane was brought back to the United, head of academy Nick Cox told the club website: “This new role was carefully considered and adds yet another level of support for our players in helping them to play at the highest level possible.

“We believe that Paul is the perfect candidate. He arrives as an extremely highly recommended coach but also clearly still has a lot left to give on the pitch. This unique combination is invaluable for our under-23s team and will further drive the professional standards of the group.

“As an Academy graduate, who has had an outstanding career, Paul knows the club inside out and can pass on this wealth of knowledge every day to our young players.

“Paul will now form part of a team of dedicated experts once again bringing the best external coaching talent to complement our existing group.”

McShane hung up his boots at the end of the 2021-22 season and now will be a full-time member of United’s backroom.

Brighton duplicate Bayern

It may well have been Brighton and Hove Albion who began the trend of signing

As early as 2019, the Seagulls signed 35-year-old Andrew Crofts from non-league Yeovil Town.

Returning for a third spell on the south coast, Brighton's former technical director Dan Ashworth revealed he got the idea from Bayern Munich after a friendly at the club's training ground.

Speaking to the Training Ground Guru podcast in December 2020, Ashworth said: "Bayern Munich rocked up for this evening game at Lancing and I’m watching and thinking: 'Blimey, their centre back looks 30-plus'.

After the game, we spoke to the Bayern Munich staff, who said: ‘He never plays in the first team and is here to help our young players.

“That’s one of the criticisms of the under-23s - I hear a lot of people talk about back in the day when in the reserve team you could drop down a couple of senior players and help the young players. I suppose it’s a hybrid version of that.

“It was a bit of an experiment, but Crofty has taken to it really well and is now on his Pro Licence so will be a fully-qualified coach within the next 12 to 18 months."

Crofts has continued his progression up the Brighton ladder. Although he's no longer playing, the former Wales international is now head coach of the Seagulls' development set-up.

Andrew Crofts is now Brighton’s under-21s head coach. Picture: Pete Norton/Getty Images

‘My job is to set the standard’

Southampton have too taken a similar approach.

Last summer, 32-year-old Olly Lancashire was re-signed by the St Mary's outfit.

Lancashire spent the majority of his career plying his trade in League One and League Two after leaving the Saints in 2010 and was prised back from Crewe Alexandra.

Speaking to iNews, he said: “Matt [Crocker, director of football] wanted someone who knew how Southampton operated, who knew the principles of the club, who had come through the academy themselves and so knew what it demanded of a person and who had gone on to gain experience playing a number of years in the Football League. I fitted that specification, but I was certainly very grateful that he approached me.

“My job is to set the standard. I have to show them the day-to-day behaviour that is expected of a footballer, whether you’re in a Premier League first team or in League Two.

"It’s helping to create an environment around them so there are no surprises, drilling down into these young lads what it takes to have a career in the game. Ultimately my job is to teach young players what challenges they are likely to face and what is needed beyond talent to become a successful footballer."