Jason Pearce has proved in recent weeks that he can still play a big part for Charlton Athletic. But the experienced centre-back feared his Valley career was over after a discussion with Nigel Adkins at the start of last summer.
The defender, who turns 34 next month, has been rock solid since coming back into the starting line-up for the past four League One matches. The Addicks have only conceded one goal over that period with the backline looking far more robust after caretaker boss Johnnie Jackson switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
Pearce has played 157 matches for Charlton – easily the most of any member of the squad – but admits at one stage he felt like he was heading for the SE7 exit door.
“I was disappointed with the conversation I had with Nigel at the end of last season,” he exclusively told the South London Press. “The fact he said I would be back-up to the team and not really in his thoughts.
“I love the club and still feel I’ve got something to give, but he didn’t feel like that. In the end I did think I was going to be leaving.
“The club sorted out a one-year contract that has a potential coaching role when I finish playing, which I’d like to think that won’t be at the end of this season.
“I’d made it clear I wanted to stay for the long-term future. I wasn’t sure if he saw that. The club committed to me for the year but it left a bad taste in my mouth.
“I basically felt like I had a point to prove people wrong and I certainly wanted to prove him wrong. I went in and worked really hard in pre-season training and the gym. But nothing really changed in terms of how hard I work, I always do that.
“Now I feel I’m playing well and I want to keep that form up, for the team and for the good of the club.
“I know I’m getting older and I’m not always going to be a mainstay in the team now but if I get an opportunity and take it, I’d like to think the manager will back you and keep you in there if you’re playing well.
“To be fair the squad we had last season was an older squad. I agree with it, in terms of the club wanting to bring that average age down – it’s really important in today’s game. But, having said that, you still need those experienced heads around the place to help the younger players.
“I’ve always been someone who has tried to do everything right – in terms of nutrition and what I do on and off the pitch.
“If you really look after your body you can give yourself those extra years that maybe some people over 30 might not get as they start getting more injuries. I’ll keep giving myself the best chance to play for as long as I can.”
Injuries to Ryan Inniss and Sam Lavelle have opened the door for Pearce to stake a claim. And he has done exactly that, particularly relishing the physical and aerial battle against the likes of Rotherham and Burton in the last couple of fixtures.
“Unfortunately Sam got injured and it gave me an opportunity,” said Pearce. “I really wanted to take this opportunity, I played with Jacko and I know him well. I just wanted to do well for him. I know how good he is as a person. He is highly thought of at the club. I’d love him to get the job. He’d be great for the club.
“A lot of teams are playing three at the back now. It gives you that extra defender, so you feel more solid. On the transition we have got the wing-backs and Jacko has gone quite attacking there with DJ [Diallang Jaiyesimi] and Ben Purrington, who just finds himself in the right place at the right time in the box. On the transition we can go forward with a lot of numbers, but it keeps us solid at the back. He has changed the mentality of the group and how we work and train together. It has been a real positive impact.
“We’re only a few games in and we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground, keep that form up and the work rate.”
Charlton have banked 10 points from a possible 12 under Jackson’s tutelage. It begs the question how the 39-year-old, who had been assisting Adkins, has extracted so much more from the same group of players?
“Something wasn’t right and wasn’t clicking towards the end with Nigel,” said Pearce, who is seven games away from 550 as a professional. “From the inside and outside, it looked like it needed a change. I think even he would say that.
“Jacko has been in and around it and I think he probably felt he knew what needed to happen. He changed things tactically and then training changed as well. That was positive and the boys have bought into it.
“Long may it continue. At the moment Jacko is the caretaker and it’s down to the club what they want to do on the managerial side, but if we continue to perform I don’t see why they wouldn’t offer Jacko the job.”
Pearce, who made his senior debut for Bournemouth in November 2007, is well down the road on his coaching badges as he prepares for life after playing.
“I’ve passed my UEFA A licence, so I’ve got the top coaching qualification you can get,” he said. “There is the Pro Licence and I’d love to get on to it now, but they won’t allow me to do that until I’ve stopped playing.
“I’d like to play on. Once you get to a point where you feel your legs have gone, or you’re not performing well enough, then you know as a player that you can’t continue. I still feel I’ve got quite a lot to give – playing and off the pitch.
“I am coaching every Wednesday, the U15s and U16s at Charlton. I still want to keep that going, I want to keep learning off Jacko, Euelly [Jason Euell] and Anthony Hayes. They are all good coaches and I’m trying to write down sessions, so hopefully when I do finish then I’ll be in a good place to take an immediate coach role at the club.”
The immediate target is to derail a Plymouth Argyle side who head to SE7 tomorrow as the League One pacesetters. The only time they have tasted defeat in the competition was on the opening day, a 2-0 reverse at Rotherham. They are undefeated in 16 matches and walloped Accrington 4-1 last time out.
But The Valley is set to be almost at capacity with Charlton owner Thomas Sandgaard allowing season ticket holders to bring along up to three family or friends for free. A win could lift the Addicks as high as 11th.
“I’ve played there when it is packed for the big games and having it full makes a massive difference to the players when the crowd are behind you,” said Pearce. “Plymouth will be massive favourites.
“We can enjoy it and do the the best we can. We’ll work our socks off, like we have done. We know when we play like that – play for the shirt – that the crowd will back us. Hopefully that helps us get a positive result.”
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