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Ode to Jay - A Muted Farewell to the Soundbite Captain

Crystal Palace v Bolton Wanderers - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

In a week of long serving scouse captains departing their clubs to reduced fanfare and mixed emotions, the breakdown in talks between Jay Spearing and Bolton Wanderers has largely gone under the radar. Ostensibly a question of his prohibitive wage demands, the player and the club have decided to go their separate ways, leaving a confusing and conflicting legacy following 5 years of intermittent first team action.

It is hard to sum up Jay’s time at Bolton as his output varied wildly in terms of both quality and consistency.

A scintillating loan spell in our first season back in the Championship and a quietly efficient campaign last season in League One bookended his time at the club, with the intervening 3 years characterized by poor form, erratic performances and temporary banishment to Blackburn Rovers.

At his best Spearing looked a cut above his teammates and the rest of the division in which we happened to play, dictating the tempo of the game with a punchy passing style and breaking up opposition attacks with an insatiable appetite for a robust challenge.

It was in the second half of the 2012-2013 season in the ultimately futile attempt to win promotion that he shone most brightly, culminating in his thoroughly deserved ‘Player of the Year’ award and convincing the club hierarchy to secure his permanent signature that summer.

It is lamentable that he could never quite recapture this early promise, his personal failings mirroring that of the team’s at large, as his performances became ever more anonymous and his tough tackling veered into the reckless. Dropping down a division enabled Spearing to once again become the effective fulcrum of the team, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that his skillset is best suited to the third tier.

I have often been skeptical of Jay’s leadership credentials and felt that his incessant gesturing to encourage the fans and the constant stream of platitudes he dished out to the media in interviews and press conferences distracted him from his primary concern of playing football.

He appeared as a child playing at the role of captain – demonstrating all the superficial qualities of a leader (clapping the supporters, waving his arms aimlessly in frustration) without achieving the requisite level of performance on the pitch.

However, just as Spearing’s struggles in previous years were indicative of a wider malaise at the club, his success last season was symptomatic of Bolton’s redemption. He was able to effectively use his experience and authority to steady the ship and guide us towards automatic promotion at the first time of asking. It is one of football’s great truisms to state the need for natural leaders in any dressing room and with Jay’s departure we are certainly losing a vocal and influential figure.

He may not have the talent to perform at a higher level, but it would be remiss of Parkinson and the recruitment team not to a sign a figure with a similar zeal for captaincy, regardless of their position.

Spearing’s departure closes the door on a period of financial abandon under the previous ownership and points the way to further prudence and the continued trimming of the wage bill under Anderson, which can only be a positive step.

It is not Jay’s fault that we offered such a lucrative contract to him in the first instance and I do not blame him for wishing to maintain his current level of remuneration at another club, most likely at one of our nearest and dearest local rivals plying their trade in League One.

It’s been a strange half decade and I wish Spearing all the best.