AcademyColumn: Jay Spearing on FA Youth Cup memories, Ipswich test and Ben Doak



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In our latest Academy column, we catch up with U18s coach Jay Spearing ahead of Friday night’s FA Youth Cup fifth-round trip to Ipswich Town.

It goes without saying it’s been a whirlwind for me coming back to the club I love, and every day I have a smile on my face.

I couldn’t be more grateful to Academy manager Alex Inglethorpe for giving me this opportunity to put something back into my Kirkby roots and help these young players coming through our ranks.

It has been an unforgettable seven months so far. It has been exciting, it’s been hectic, it’s been a massive learning curve – and one I am thoroughly enjoying.

The people I can learn from here every day are unbelievable – like Alex, Bridgey [Marc Bridge-Wilkinson], Barry Lewtas, Taff [Neil Edwards], Jacob Dunne-Simon and Jenks [Tim Jenkins], before he left. We also have Steve McManaman and Rob Jones, who come in to support us as well.

Working with Bridgey has been class. He is a great guy and I can’t speak highly enough of him. From the moment I came in, he has been incredible with me. He has been by my side, helped me out and involved me in absolutely everything – from getting ready for the training sessions, thinking about what we should focus on, to going out and setting things up.

He also speaks to me about my thoughts on what the team should be and my views on certain aspects of our play. I couldn’t ask for a better person to learn from.

Taff, our goalkeeping coach, is such a great guy as well. He has been at the club for more than 10 years now and is like a piece of the furniture. He is incredible in what he does. He has been there, he knows what it takes and knows this place inside out. To have someone with his experience is invaluable.

I’ve learned things from every single person in the coaching team and I just love going to work every day. It’s good fun, it’s enjoyable and I feel at home.

Our U18s team now is very different to the one that started the season and, unfortunately, we have had some bad fortune with injuries to key players.

Some players, for the right reasons, will go up to the U21s squad, which is the next step for them before hopefully they get a first-team opportunity.

A lot of the U16 boys have got chances in the U18 team perhaps slightly earlier than they may have envisioned. They have done very well, listened to our advice and are giving it their very best every time they put on that red shirt – they are showing what they are all about.

At the end of the day, our main job is to develop players so they can eventually challenge for a place in the first team. So, we are going in the right direction with the likes of Stefan Bajcetic and Ben Doak doing so well up there.

Ben was in our team at the start of the season and he was absolutely flying. He has made rapid progress and he is a great kid. We want to get players moving up the ladder and Ben has done that, playing for the U21s and then getting his first-team opportunity.

Ben has got his head down, he works so hard, and he has got a great mentality. That drive and desire the boy has, it’s no surprise to us he has done so well. Fingers crossed, he can keep it going and keep getting better because the lad has a lot of ability.

We are still seeing things we want the lads to improve on and the hard work continues on a daily basis.

It’s not all about the results. Listen, we want to win every week – this club is all about winning – but we want to see the players are learning from what we are teaching them, about what a Liverpool player should be on and off the pitch. Win or lose, we get a lot of satisfaction from seeing that, despite obviously being thoroughly disappointed if we don’t get the result we want.

We can’t wait for Friday night when we take on Ipswich Town in the FA Youth Cup fifth round at Portman Road – a game you can watch live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO, with kick-off set for 7pm GMT.

People always ask me about my FA Youth Cup experiences and I was very fortunate to win the competition twice – one as captain when we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. I don’t like to mention it too often, but I do mention it when it comes to FA Youth Cup time!

Back then, we didn’t have the luxury of the UEFA Youth League, and I explain to the boys just how special this competition is.

The memories you have from the FA Youth Cup live with you forever. I still speak to a lot of the lads from that time and we remain very close mates. You make friends for life in these moments.

I won the FA Youth Cup twice with my great friend Stephen Darby and I will always remember those amazing times. We know the situation Darbs is in, with his diagnosis of MND, so we are giving him all the help he needs. He always watches our games on LFCTV. He texts me saying to make sure the lads give it everything because of the memories we’ve got from those days.

This is a big stage for our young players. We have had two tough away games in the competition so far, winning 2-1 at AFC Bournemouth and 1-0 at Port Vale.

We had a very young team at Bournemouth and the lads competed well to come out on top. And, even though we weren’t at our best at Port Vale, we still managed to get the result.

Cup ties are one-off games and you can’t always play free-flowing football, have 90 per cent possession and score five goals. Port Vale made it really difficult for us. They fought, won second balls and put us under a lot of pressure. Our boys are not really used to that, but I have to give them credit because they dug deep, worked hard and fought right to the end. The boys showed a different side to themselves and we were very glad to see that.

We can’t wait for Friday night. It’s another long trek, but Portman Road is full of history and it will be a great stage for the lads to play on.

Ipswich won the UEFA Cup under the great Sir Bobby Robson back in the day. They were also in the Premier League for a long time and they are a big club.

Highlights: Port Vale 0-1 Liverpool U18s

It’s a great opportunity for our lads to go down there, make a bit of a statement, and try to reach the quarter-finals.

It’s going to be a difficult game – we have seen Ipswich play and know what they are about – but it’s a game we are relishing.

Finally, I would just like to say a big thank you for all the well wishes I received when I had a little health scare over Christmas. I’m doing really well now, thankfully.

I received so many messages from former players, people from all different backgrounds, and people who have got Addison’s disease also reached out to me. The support has been incredible.

I owe a lot to my wife and kids for being that rock for me. I’m in a very good place and it was brilliant to be back with the U21s squad for the game against Hertha BSC on Wednesday night. I’m looking forward to the future.

Jay Spearing was speaking to's Steve Hunter



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