Spearing’s Euro vision is helping to boost Baggies
PUBLISHED: 16:11 15 September 2011
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2008
There was likely to be more than a little Norwich City input into the West Bromwich Albion side that took the field in Sunday’s Premier League game at Carrow Road – at least in the sense that two ex-Canaries have played a major role in assembling the first team squad at The Hawthorns.
Albion’s sporting and technical director is Dan Ashworth, whose early football career included a spell in City’s schoolboy ranks before he played for Wisbech Town, followed by coaching roles at Peterborough United and Cambridge United.
And the Baggies’ head of European recruitment, scouring the Continent and the wider world for hidden talent for the past 3½ years, is none other than former City full-back Tony Spearing.
Ashworth, who first joined Albion as academy director in 2004 and switched to his current post in 2007, has been praised for bringing little-known foreign players to the club at limited expense, a list that includes names such as Peter Odemwingie, Gonzalo Jara, Gabriel Tamas, Youssuf Mulumbu, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Jonas Olsson.
And, since leaving his job as a senior scout for Blackburn Rovers in 2008, Spearing has been Ashworth’s eyes and ears on the European scene.
He said: “I was working at Blackburn doing a similar job, when I got a phone call from Dan asking if I was interested in leading the European side of West Bromwich Albion’s scouting.
“I didn’t know Dan but he said he could remember me as a player at Norwich when he was a youngster, which was nice.
“I went to see Dan and Tony Mowbray, who was manager at the time, for an interview. There were other candidates but fortunately I got the job.
“At Blackburn I was a member of a team but at West Brom I was given the opportunity to run the European operation.
“We have 11 or 12 scouts abroad working for us and recommending players. We follow them up and go and see the players and if we think a player is good enough we go through a process and sit down with the manager and see if he fits the bill.”
The results are there for all to see with a quick scroll down Albion’s Premier League squad of 25.
“People like Chris Brunt and Graeme Dorrans were already here, so we can’t take credit for that, but probably 15 or 20 of the current squad of 25 have come through our UK and European network,” said Spearing.
It means that 46-year-old Spearing, who still lives in Norwich, spends much of his time travelling abroad, and his scouting missions are not always confined to Europe.
“I’ve been all over the world – Argentina, and other parts of South America. One of the players we signed is from Chile,” he said.
“I always say it’s better than working for a living! It’s been fantastic. Sometimes I go to matches and I think ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this’. At other games, you think ‘What am I doing here?’ so it’s a bit of both.”
After a decade bouncing between the Premier League and Championship, Albion hope that finishing 11th in the top flight last season is the prelude to a period of greater stability.
“It’s a fantastic football club, run properly from top to bottom. Staying up last season gave us a massive feelgood factor because there is no doubt we were a yo-yo club,” said Spearing.
Closer to home, the Canaries are hoping to experience again the regular top-flight football they enjoyed for most of Romford-born Spearing’s time as a tough-tackling defender in the 1980s.
A member of Dave Stringer’s FA Youth Cup and South East Counties League double winners in 1983, he went on to make 82 first team appearances at left-back and was a regular in the side that came fifth in Division One in 1986-87 under Ken Brown – at the time the club’s highest finish – before moving to Leicester City in 1988 for £100,000. He later maintained his East Anglian links with two spells managing King’s Lynn and another as assistant manager to Rob Newman at Cambridge United.
He said: “I’m a Norwich fan. They were my happiest times as a player and I still live in Norwich. To see them back in the Premier League is fantastic.
“I’m delighted. With due respect to Norwich, when they went into League One I feared for them. But a new manager has come in and turned the place on its head.”
And, of course, Paul Lambert’s right-hand man is Spearing’s former full-back partner at Carrow Road, Ian Culverhouse.
“I haven’t seen ‘Civvy’ since he came back but he has been instrumental in what’s happened and he and the manager are a good team. He was an outstanding player and that’s brushed off into his coaching career.
“I still see Rob Newman, who is my big mate, because he has a similar role to me at Manchester City, and Ian Butterworth, who does a bit of work scouting for England Under-21s.
“The team as it was when I was at the club is still very much a team in that sense, which is nice.”