Prat falls to rise
It’s always curious when a player once apparently utterly integral to a team becomes dispensable, particularly when it seems to happen almost overnight.
Take the case of former Swansea star Darren Pratley. For the full duration of the season my club spent in the Championship, 2009/10, Pratley was magnificent – a driving, dynamic force knitting midfield to attack and carrying considerable goal threat thanks to a knack for bursting beyond his forwards into the box. His importance to Swansea was all the greater because of their preference for lining up with a lone striker. We may have reaped the rewards of having Kevin Nolan (as West Ham are set to this season), but Pratley was the classier, more elegant playmaker who made his whole side tick. Little wonder that Forest’s interest was piqued – and, equally, little wonder that the Swans had no inclination to sell.
And then, in the summer of 2010, came the turning point: a breakdown in contract talks. Pratley claims he was keen to commit to a new deal, but admits to feeling aggrieved by unenthusiastic public comments made by chairman Huw Jenkins – comments which no doubt soured the negotiations.
Pratley actually made more appearances in the 2010/11 season than the year before, but many of these were from the bench, Brendan Rodgers having done the previously unthinkable and dropped him. Sidelined both by his own form and the emergence of Joe Allen, Pratley became a peripheral figure usurped in importance by Scott Sinclair – even if he did contribute vital goals towards the end of the campaign, including one in the play-off semi-final against former suitors Forest. With his contract up, he enjoyed the post-Wembley party and then trotted off to join Bolton.
Pratley’s prospects of becoming the focal point of the Trotters’ midfield are enhanced by the long-term injury from which last year’s Player of the Year Stuart Holden is still recovering. But for a cautionary tale of how Championship playmakers can struggle at the top level, Pratley need look no further than Graham Dorrans at West Brom. A string of consistently impressive performances and no fewer than 18 goals in the 2009/10 season were enough to win Dorrans a host of plaudits, including the club’s Player of the Year Award and a place in the PFA Championship Team of the Year, and admiring glances from West Ham, but his post-promotion impact in the Premier League was negligible at best. Like Dorrans, Pratley went from running the show to looking on, and it remains to be seen if either can re-establish himself this coming campaign.