BY his own admission, the Spice Boy' looks may be fading, but Jason McAteer still has a roguish glint in his eye when he talks about his time at Bolton Wanderers.

With nearly 500 professional games, two World Cups and 52 international caps under his belt, the Birkenhead-born midfielder is currently in the autumn of his career as player-coach at League One Tranmere Rovers.

It is nearly a full circle for the 35-year-old, who was famously plucked from Lancashire League football, where he was playing for Marine Reserves, by Phil Neal in 1992 before embarking on a whirlwind path which accrued nearly £10 million in transfer fees and saw him play for some of the top clubs in the game.

This weekend, McAteer will be a spectator at Ewood Park for the Lancashire derby. Having enjoyed spells at both clubs, he is reluctant to venture a prediction - but believes that Sam Allardyce and Mark Hughes can guide their respective sides into Europe again this season, regardless of the result.

"Both managers have done very well. Sam's record speaks for itself and Mark Hughes likewise," said McAteer.

"Both sides have got solid squads now and will probably classify themselves in that bracket just under the Liverpools, Chelseas and Arsenals in the Premiership.

"They have both got the ability and the strength of squad to make Europe this year, which would be a fantastic achievement.

"It will be a close game. Both teams seem to be on form. Bolton really deserved their result at Newcastle. Blackburn did well at Liverpool.

"I wouldn't like to chance a score but I think there will be plenty of goals."

McAteer remains Wanderers' most costly export at £4.5 million, just four games into their debut season in the Premier League.

He made the switch to Liverpool aged 24 as one of the most marketable players in the game. Joining Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp, Steve McManaman and David James at Anfield, the former Burnden boy was rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in football.

But a decade on, it is the lessons learned as a young player at Wanderers which McAteer is putting into practice in his coaching role at Prenton Park.

"The Bolton scenario back then is very much like Tranmere is now.

"I know what it takes to make it the hard way, and play in the lower divisions, so my experiences there have stood me in great stead here.

"I know what dedication is needed for a professional footballer, so I want to pass that on to the kids here at Tranmere.

"I've had a big hand in coaching the reserves and the first team, so it's nice that I have that opportunity. I feel like I'm in the right place.

"When I was at Bolton they had a great youth policy.

"Steve Carroll and Bruce Rioch were there and it was a real close-knit club. Personally, I was really looked after there. They have moved with the times now. I'm sure the ethics are still there, and they are great ingredients for a football club."

McAteer played 145 games for Wanderers, scoring 15 goals - two of which famously came against Arsenal in one of the the club's finest FA Cup hours in the late nineties.

But the former Republic of Ireland international left the club well before they settled as a top flight outfit, and McAteer admits he still feels a slight tinge of regret when he looks at how Wanderers have evolved into an established Premier League club.

"It's nice to think that I was in the squad that probably started the Bolton revolution," said McAteer, whose final game at Burnden Park ironically came against Sunday afternoon's opponents, Blackburn Rovers, in August, 1995.

"Age doesn't wait for anyone and they haven't invented any pill yet, so unfortunately things are starting to fall off me now. You realise it doesn't last forever.

"At this stage of my career, people start asking me what have been the highlights, and I'd have to say that my time at Bolton was up there as the very best thing I have done.

"Leaving was hard, and I wonder what might have happened if had stayed there.As I get older, I bump into players I used to play with at Bolton, like Julian Darby, David Lee and Dave Felgate and it brings the memories back.

"It reminds you of just how good those days were, because when you get to this stage of your career, that's all you are left with."