Postcard from Europe: Drop is the way up for Spector
AMSTERDAM — It's not often that a worker can say he transitioned to two new bosses in the same week, but it's no hollow boast for Jonathan Spector.
Four days after Jurgen Klinsmann became his new US national-team coach an ocean away, the 25-year-old ended a small bidding war by penning a free-agent deal to join Birmingham City for two seasons.
His former club, West Ham United — where he spent the last four seasons — attempted to ink Spector to a new deal twice. But try as they did, it seemed pretty early on that Spector would find a new home of his choosing on the free-agent market. Premier League survivors Sunderland were interested right about until the time longtime crush Craig Gardner became available at Birmingham.
Aside from that, there was more interest in the second-flight Championship, his new station thanks to West Ham's drop. In the end, Gardner became a Black Cat. Leeds United pushed the Brums ("Right up to the wire," a source told MLSsoccer.com), but were unable woo Spector away from the lure of St. Andrews.
"Birmingham is a big club with a rich history and strong support," Spector told MLSsoccer.com from his new home base. "I chose Birmingham for those reasons, as well as the opportunity, I feel, that the club has to win promotion straight back into the Premier League."
If the American sounds confident of the bounce-back, he got it from that other new boss, Birmingham manager Chris Hughton. Also a fresh arrival, the coach has come in talking up promotion. This has surely been sweet music to the ears of a player who was just relegated for the first time after six seasons on an EPL first-team roster.
"The manager has the experience of doing that at Newcastle," noted Spector. "I had heard a lot of good things about him, and I felt comfortable speaking with him before I signed for the club."
Among the key topics they covered was one also of great interest to USMNT fans: How will he be utilized? Spector was a defensive handyman-turned-two-way central-park ranger at West Ham and it would probably solidify his game if he could remain in one place.
Spector has happily begun his Brum tenure listed as a midfielder. It says so in the official squad announcement for Thursday's Europa League playoff-round opener at Portuguese side CD Nacional, his potential club debut.
However, transfer buzz has swirled around the Birmingham central defense all summer long and Spector realizes he may still need to offer some utility services.
"We have discussed where I would like to play and [Hughton] is open to that," he said. "However, it is up to him to decide what the team needs."
As noted, the one thing Hughton has declared as team need is promotion. Though Thursday marks Spector's first crack at European play since 2007, he follows along by making their UEFA adventure out to be cake icing.
"The Europa League is a great competition, he stated. "I'm sure we will all enjoy competing against some of the top teams in Europe. However, our main focus will be on getting promoted back into the Premier League."
Because he was busy settling into Blues life, Spector missed out on Klinsmann's first US selection for the recent draw with Mexico in Philadelphia last week. His next chance comes in three weeks time and is close by — vs. Belgium in Brussels on Sept. 6 — and the Chicago native with German blood can't wait to see what new boss No. 2 has in store for that crew.
"I think he will bring a fresh approach to soccer in the United States," Spector said of Klinsmann. "He changed the way the German national team played in a short period of time to an exciting attack-minded style. Obviously, there are differences between the countries historically in soccer terms, but I think he may try a similar approach."
As much as anybody in the US set-up, he could use a fresh approach. It's not easy being stuck behind Steve Cherundolo at right back, and Spector now gets to introduce himself to Klinsmann as a guy who can also play central midfield.
Until then, Spector will make busy following Hughton's lead in Birmingham. The manager has laid out a plan the new guy likes: Play like a top-flight side. Brum fans should expect no great regression to the famously direct Championship style and Spector believes this plan of attack will have him back in the Premier League next August.
"There is a style in which I like to play and a style in which the manager wants his team to play," he said. "That is one of the reasons I chose Birmingham City, and I think it is up to us to impose the way we want to play on other teams."
"The Championship does have a different style from what I am used to, but I think if we as a team are out to play the way we want, then we will be successful."