Darren Pratley. A player who, up until last October, divided Bolton Wanderers fans opinions. Some had written him off entirely, while some had repeatedly stated that if given a solid run in the Bolton team, Pratley would be a good player for the Whites. He of course had been for the Swansea City team that gained promotion in 2011.
Prior to Neil Lennon's appointment a year ago, Darren Pratley's best spell as a Wanderer was in the second half of the 2012/2013 season, to the beginning of the 2013/2014 season. When Lennon took over, Pratley's form took a turn for the best.
Scoring goals for fun before and after Christmas, Pratley was becoming a superb player for Bolton. Playing alongside other key players in Chung-Yong Lee, Craig Davies and Josh Vela, Bolton and Neil Lennon steered well clear of the relegation places, climbing to 14th.
Then, Chungy leaves to join Crystal Palace, Craig Davies is plagued by injury problems and Pratley, is ruled out for the season.
The 2015/2016 season arrives. After the departure of Matt Mills, Bolton needed a new captain. Lennon appointed Pratley. Perhaps a surprise to some, but after his first outing as captain in a friendly against Sturm Graz in Austria, any doubts were put to rest. Jumping straight in to confront a Graz player who recklessly tackled Oscar Threlkeld, Pratley showed the fighting spirit needed for a captain.
Brilliant. Bolton have a solid captain ready to lead the Whites team towards a better finish than last season.
Well, Bolton being Bolton, nothing pans out the way you'd want it to. Going off injured in Bolton's opening day 0-0 draw with Derby County, Bolton needed a new player to lead the team. Up stepped Mark Davies.
Although Davies has never struck me as the 'leader', Davies did an admirable job. Leading by example, it seemed the added importance of the captain's role did nothing but spur on Davies.
After Bolton's away draw with Blackburn in August, Lennon was full of praise for stand in captain Mark Davies, stating:
"Yeah he’s a bit of a rascal so sometimes it’s good to give the rascals a responsibility because they grow into it and you can see that he is growing into the role."
October 3rd, and Bolton are away at Queens Park Rangers. Pratley returns, and is thrust straight into the first team. It turned out to be too soon, and an average performance by the entire team led to a 4-3 defeat.
Darren Pratley has played every game since. And while the entire team has not been great, Pratley especially is not the player he was prior to last season's injury. A role that Pratley has definitely struggled in, is being the captain. In his six appearances since returning from injury, Pratley hasn't looked like a leader on the pitch. This was evident in the game against Birmingham City. Booked for kicking the ball away, which isn't a great way of setting an example for the rest of the team. After being booked, Pratley coasted though the rest of the game.
In the game against Leeds United, Pratley found himself in a shooting position when Bolton were 1-0 up, only to try and pass to no one. Last season Pratley would have buried such an opportunity, but no, the old/new Pratley can't. It's like the pressure of being captain has hindered his ability on the pitch.
It wouldn't be the first time a Bolton captain has declined in form after taking the armband. Kevin Nolan became lethargic, while Jay Spearing became a shadow of the player he was before signing permanently.
The captain's armband is like kryptonite for Bolton Wanderers players.
Darren Pratley being captain also guarantees him a place in the starting XI. Similar to the situation Wayne Rooney finds himself in for Manchester United and England, Pratley continues to start despite showing no reason to in his performances.
For me, I think Lennon has to replace Darren Pratley as captain. A lack of leadership and a return to playing like a 'headless chicken'. I also believe we have players who could be deemed as better leaders on the pitch. Mark Davies is an obvious candidate considering his spell as a stand in captain. Another option is David Wheater. Like Davies, Wheater has shaken off a long term injury, and has been the stand out performer in a poor defence in recent weeks.
It seems a few other people don't rate Pratley as a captain:
y the fuck is pratley even captain? Not challenging the ref over shit decisions & spitting his dummy out & kicking ball away. Tosser #BWFC
— Paul Davies (@pdavies84) October 20, 2015
How is pratley our captain ?? No way is he a leader #bwfc
— Alix Drinkwater (@alixdeeee) October 20, 2015
Darren Pratley was terrible yet again tonight. And he's our captain??? #bwfc
— Liam Hatton (@liamhatton) October 20, 2015
Lacking a leader on the pitch who can kick these players up the arse. Our apparent captain Pratley lost his head in the first half #BWFC
— Liam Sankey BWFC (@LiamSankeyBWFC) October 20, 2015
Pratley is simply not good enough to be captain #BWFC
— P Wanderer (@P1derer) October 31, 2015
When will Lennon realise that pratley isn't a captain and I've not seen him once trying to motivate the team
— Danny Kidd (@DannyKidd96) November 3, 2015
Will Darren Pratley ever return to the form of last season? Probably not. However, taking the pressure of being captain off him, something he's not suited for, may allow him to concentrate on playing well. It worked to a degree for Spearing, so why not for Pratley?