Darren Pratley has admitted his Charlton Athletic release came as a complete shock.
And the 36-year-old midfielder reckons that his departure cannot be put down to his age after the amount of matches he has played for the South London club.
Pratley, Andrew Shinnie and Deji Oshilaja were all told last week by Addicks manager Nigel Adkins that they were being released.
The former Fulham, Swansea, Brentford and Bolton Wanderers ballwinner made 111 appearances for Charlton and was part of the side which won promotion to the Championship in 2019.
Pratley says that his game time in SE7 made the news he was moving on harder to take.
“I’m a little bit gutted,” said Pratley. “I played half of the season out of position at left-sided centre-half when everyone was injured. And I probably ended up with the most starts of the outfield players.
“I was the only player in the squad to train every day from the start of pre-season, and that is including goalkeepers as well. Some people would have missed a day or two, due to little injuries or knocks.
“If I’d played 10 or 15 games and I couldn’t train every day then you would take it on the chin more. Then you’d say: ‘I’m 36 and a bit of a liability – I can’t train every day’. But when you’re still fit then it is a bit hard.
“I thought maybe they might have turned around and said they were reducing my wages and you might not play as much, but staying in and around it. But there was nothing there, so that was the end of that.
“I guess that is football though. They said they wanted to reduce the age a bit. But the age thing they couldn’t really use with me, because of the amount of games and training that I did.”
Pratley has just passed his UEFA B coaching license and has applied to do the A course. He has clocked up 562 career matches and wants to add to that haul.
“You are a long time retired so I want to play as long as I can,” said Pratley. “I know on my birth certificate it says I am 36 but I’m one of the fittest at the club.
“I’ve said many times before that if I can’t keep up in the top [running] group then maybe I’ll look at it, because getting around the pitch is a big part of my game.
“I haven’t looked at my options yet. This came as a shock to me, so I wasn’t looking at clubs who could be out there. I didn’t go into the meeting in a bullet-proof vest thinking I was going to get shot – but I did!
“I’ll leave that with my agent to see what options are out there.
“The coaching is something I can transition into after playing. I don’t see any reason why I should retire.”
Lee Bowyer brought Pratley to Charlton in the summer of 2018. He had been released by Bolton and the then Valley boss was looking to add some extra steel to his midfield.
“I was 33 at the time and I think the club were a little bit like ‘can he still play and has he got enough in his legs?’,” said Pratley. “Because in football when you get to 30 it is normally game over for anyone. You are no longer an asset then. Football is a business, clubs want young players who they can sell on.
“When I went into Charlton they were halfway through pre-season and I remember we had to do a test and I came second, by about two metres, from Karlan Grant.
“The fitness coach was like ‘wow, you came second and you didn’t even have a pre-season’. Just because I’m 33 doesn’t mean I can’t run and stay fit. I was speaking to clubs before I came to Charlton and they were umming and aahing ‘we’ll give you a one-year contract’.
“Charlton took a chance on me at 33 and I’d like to think I repaid them with the amount of games I played.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time and it is a great club. I had a bond with the people at the club – the players, staff and even the fans.
“The play-off final was good and the semi-final as well, coming on [at The Valley] and getting the goal to take [the Doncaster match] into extra-time.
“We got promoted to the Championship and started quite well. We fell off towards the end and had a lot of injuries. The play-offs and getting into the Championship was probably the highlight for me.
“I obviously wasn’t the best player technically but I think they appreciated what I did, giving 100 per cent every time.
“I felt part of the club. This [his release] has probably hit the missus more than me at the moment because I would have been in the off season now anyway.
“It hasn’t really sunk in. But I suppose when you get to go back to pre-season and start training it will sink in a bit more.”
Pratley announced on his LinkedIn page that he would not be staying at Charlton following a one-to-one chat with boss Nigel Adkins.
“He is a respectful and positive guy,” said Pratley. “The conversation was simple. What did I want to do? I told him I wanted to play on and he said ‘unfortunately there is nothing there for you, we want to bring down the age of the squad’. He said he had young players coming through. I respected that, but I also said that I was a young player once and I had older players in front of me – I had to fight for my shirt when I was 18, 19 or 20.
“We shook each other’s hand and I wished him all the best. I want Charlton to get promotion next season, which I believe they will if the chairman backs them right.
“I had a lot of messages from staff who were gutted to see me go.
“Hopefully one day when I get these badges I can come back and be coaching as part of the academy.”
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