Darren Pratley admits his Bolton Wanderers exit came as a slight surprise – but that it was probably the right time for a new footballing chapter.
The 33-year-old midfielder became Charlton Athletic’s second signing of the close season, penning a deal with the SE7 outfit until the summer of 2020.
It is a return to his roots. Barking-born Pratley started on Fulham’s books – rejecting a YTS contract at Arsenal when the west London club also threw in professional terms.
And he had a loan with Brentford, which gave him a hunger for first-team football, before his career took off at Swansea City under Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers.
Pratley played 212 times for Bolton and suffered two relegations and a promotion. When he joined the Lancashire outfit they were in the Premier League. But they dropped to League One before climbing back into the Championship in 2017.
Asked if he expected to be a free agent this summer, he replied: “Not really.
“I played the majority of games this season, then trained twice after being out for eight weeks with a broken leg and played.
“Towards the end of the season I was having injections and not training so that I could play. When the released list came out, I wasn’t on it. I think there was a discussion about a deal, but then no deal was put forward.
“I spoke to the manager and he said: ‘We’re going to part ways’. Fair enough, it was probably the right time for me to leave – we had just stayed in the Championship after a tough season. This is a new challenge for me.”
Pratley was a fall guy with some Wanderers supporters for the club’s fall from grace.
“I was in the side that got relegated from the Premier League – I was around when they had their downfalls,” he explained. “Sometimes people would say if we win it was nothing but if we lose it was my fault.
“I’m not trying to stay in their good books, but it helped make me what I am today.
“I played over 200 games for the club. When I was fit I played. I must have done something right – there was nothing written in my contract that I had to play games.
“I captained the side for three years. I played under three or four different managers, it was not like I had one and he liked you. As long as my team-mates and manager appreciate me, that’s the main thing.”
Pratley has a major admirer in Addicks boss Lee Bowyer, who was once one of this country’s leading central midfielders.
He has already talked about his new addition as a ball-winner who will add grit and a nasty streak in the middle of the park.
Asking who would win a tackle out of the pair brings a laugh out of Pratley.
“I’ll have to say the gaffer would. I had the same agent as him when I was at Swansea. I knew about Lee, he grew up not far from me.
“When I think of Lee Bowyer, I think more of a goalscoring midfielder who gets in the box. Obviously he could tackle, but he was someone who arrived late and scored goals.
“My job is to win the ball and react when we lose it or give it away. That’s what he has asked me to do. It is straight-forward – give it to players who are a bit more dangerous on the ball than I am. We know where we stand.”
Pratley enjoyed his last crack at League One. Bolton won automatic promotion under Phil Parkinson.
And Charlton’s new arrival is thinking big.
“I don’t think we can shy away from it – we want to get promotion. The players, fans and manager – everyone wants it.
“It’s going to be a tough season with highs and lows but we need to stick together. If we do that then hopefully come the end of May we’ll be a Championship side.
“I know the club just missed out last season. When I met the manager and Steve Gallen [head of recruitment] they told me they want to get out of the division as quick as they can.”
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