AMSTERDAM — It may be a co-opted adage, but it's no less true: You can take the player out of Manchester United, but you can never take the Manchester United out of a player.
Just ask US defender Jonathan Spector.
The West Ham United backliner was just 17 when he arrived at Old Trafford in 2003. He played in the reserves alongside the likes of current Man. United captain Darren Fletcher, Barcelona star Gerard Piqué, compatriot-turned-Azzurri striker Giuseppe Rossi and fellow Nat Kenny Cooper.
Though Spector only managed eight first-team appearances at Man United, the Mancunian roots were deeply planted.
“There are a number of things that come to mind when I think back on my early days at Manchester United," Spector told MLSsoccer.com. "First and foremost, I remember the excitement I had about the opportunity I was given.
"It is one of the biggest clubs in the world, and I had the opportunity to complete against and play with some of the most talented players in the world. I learned a lot from the defenders including Rio Ferdinand, Mikaël Silvestre and Wes Brown, to name a few."
Of course, describing the Old Trafford experience is never complete without noting the guidance offered by iconic manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
“The main thing I took away from my time under him is something American players are praised for, as well,” Spector said. “That is, the determination and attitude to never give up and always fight until the end. He is someone that hates to lose and instills that in his players.”
Though now a Hammer, Spector carries with him a thick mental scrapbook of his days at Old Trafford.
“I remember the first game I started in at Old Trafford was a Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Bucharest in my second season at the club, when I was 18," he recalled. "I have been fortunate to play in some wonderful venues around the world, but since my first appearance at Old Trafford, I have yet to play in a stadium I like more."
Ultimately, like any player reminiscing about his first club, Spector will always remember and be thankful to the club that saw something worth taking a chance on in him.
"It was the club that gave me my first opportunity to play in the Premier League," he concluded. "I'll always look back on my time there with fond memories."