DAVID SMITH - Monday, August 11, 2014
Despite enduring a rough 2013-14 season that nearly ended in disaster, Jonathan Spector and Birmingham enter the new term with an optimistic eye towards making a push back into the top flight.
The Blues begin the new term having staved off what would have been a disastrous relegation to the third level of English soccer barely three months ago by the narrowest of margins. A dramatic injury-time goal in the closing moments of their final game against Bolton salvaged a draw that put them ahead of the drop only by goal differential.
While the relief felt by players and fans alike is surely something few will forget, Spector can reflect on the mixed feelings it brought about when viewed in the context of the overall season.
"The final day of the season was euphoric having escaped relegation by such a narrow margin," Spector told YA. "However, it was very disappointing to be in that position leading up to the last game of the season."
He feels that the team has indeed taken the necessary steps to prevent such a situation from arising again, and indicates that their sights are set much higher than simply surviving in the English second tier.
"We've had a very productive preseason and are optimistic about our upcoming games," he continues. "In the championship the goal always has to be promotion, and that will be our target this year."
"The club has made numerous signings during the offseason which will strengthen our squad and also bring more continuity to the team," he explains. "Last season we had a number of players on loan throughout the season which makes it difficult to integrate them into the team."
The Illinois native did miss much of the pre-season due to a slight injury, but is back to full speed and ready to tackle the team's 44-game league schedule.
"I had some tightness in my groin earlier in preseason, but I've been back training with the team for a few days now," he clarified, adding "I'm fully fit."
The versatile player has earned a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades throughout his career, which has seen him play across the field from striker, to midfield and across the back line since his academy days at Manchester United more than a decade ago.
While clearly having a preference for a more central role, he is ready to step in wherever needed into what is a largely new-look Birmingham squad.
"It's difficult to say where I will be utilized this season," he states. "There have been a number of new signings at the club, and the manager, Lee Clarke, has played me in a number of different positions the last 2 seasons."
"I've always thought central defender is my best position and would like to play there more often, but I'm happy to play where the manager feels I'm needed."
Since first joining the academy of legendary club Manchester United in 2003, Spector has carved out a long and successful career in England, spending more than a decade playing in close to 250 competitive games in league, cup and European competition, as well as earning 34 caps for the US Men's National Team.
This time has been marked by a high degree of stability with his club situation, something which is all too often a struggle with players throughout their careers.
Since departing the Manchester United system eight years ago, Spector has played exclusively for two clubs, Birmingham and prior to that West Ham, suggesting that his next major career decision at the end of the season will also be one of stability.
"I am in the last year of my contract with Birmingham City," he clarifies. "I'm certainly open to various possibilities, whether resigning for Birmingham, moving to another league in Europe, or playing in the MLS."
"When my contract expires, I'll have spent 12 seasons in England," he continues. "I've enjoyed every one of them, but it may be time for a new challenge."
In regards to the possibility of leaving England, whether it be to elsewhere in Europe or across the Atlantic to MLS, he is keeping an open mind and does recognize the allure which has drawn a number of previously European-based American stars to the league recently.
"I've had to opportunity to move abroad on numerous occasions, but in the past I've wanted to stay in England," he admits. "I've always had the desire at some point to play in the MLS and help grow the league and sport in my home country. The MLS continues to grow, and it's a very competitive league which appeals to me."
Spector should see the field in the near future, as Birmingham host Cambridge United in League Cup action on Tuesday before welcoming Brighton four days later.