At half time in the Salford game, we discussed with the Calon FM listeners who Wrexham’s player of 2018 was. There were lots of good candidates, but one clear winner. Shaun Pearson continues to set the example which others follow.
Pearson made his 75th appearance for Wrexham in that match, and of course it wasn’t how he’d want to celebrate that milestone. However there were elements of the day which illustrated why he is so valuable to us, and how he epitomises the positive qualities we need to capitalise upon as a club.
Too many people lazily use war as a metaphor for football, and I’m reluctant to do the same. It’s a game of beauty, skill and tactics. However, it’s difficult to talk about what Pearson brings to the club without lapsing into such language. Pearson is a warrior, as any who watched him at Salford could see.
When we struggled to pass our way through the home team’s crowded defensive block, he roared his anger at the lack of movement. When we left ourselves open as we gambled in the second half, he battled against the odds, hurling himself into challenges despite being outnumbered. When we threw men forwards for set pieces, he wrestled with defenders and the referee in his single-minded pursuit of a way back into the game.
The statistics of Pearson’s 75 games for Wrexham illustrate his value to the team. In those games we’ve only conceded 58 goals, and kept clean sheets in 39. When your defence shuts the opposition out in over half your games, you’ve got quite a foundation to build from!
When Pearson is on the pitch, we let a goal in every 116 minutes. Toss in eight goals at the other end and you’ve a rather useful contribution!
It makes a real difference when he’s not on the pitch either. He’s only missed six games since he came to us, two league games through suspension and four cup ties which we rested him for. We average 0.17 more points per game, if you give points for cup ties, when Pearson is playing, and although our win percentage has been broadly the same whether he plays or not, our loss percentage drops from 50% to 18% when he’s on the pitch!
But statistics alone cannot quantify his value to us. Pearson’s words on arriving at the club resonated at Salford. He said he turned down other attractive offers because he wanted to play for a proper club with genuine support. His decision has constantly been vindicated since, and the Salford game encapsulated it.
Wrexham couldn’t break down a well-organised, expensively-assembled City side, but off the pitch it was as big a mismatch as the Boxing Day thrashing. At the final whistle the huge contingent of travelling fans stayed behind to applaud their side as if they’d witnessed an heroic win. Most of the home fans filtered out quietly, although some realised what was happening and, feeling shown up, stopped in their tracks to applaud their side as an after-thought. How many of those players, despite being on fabulous wages for the National League, would have stopped for a moment and wished they’d made the same decision as Pearson as they watched him absorb the love of a packed terrace?
When you talk about Pearson for any length of time, his willingness to live locally and engage with the community inevitably comes up. In a week when Graham Barrow has spoken about the termination of Jordan Maguire-Drew’s loan in the context of players being uprooted and struggling to adapt to living far from home, Pearson’s commitment is an appropriate counter-point.
Sam Wedgbury’s departure last Summer saddened me because he spoke impressively about his connection to the area and its people, but squirmed around for excuses to leave, weeks after signing a contract extension, when a better offer came along. Pearson’s assimilation in the area is the exact opposite to that. He comes across as what he is: a thoroughly decent man who speaks frankly and makes decisions with his heart. Such characters can only be an asset.
My son had to correct me this week when I suggested that we haven’t given a long term contract to a player in some time. He reminded me of Pearson’s two and a half year commitment to the club. There’s that word again – “commitment”. Pearson epitomises it, and as long as he does that in a Wrexham shirt, we won’t go far wrong.
Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.