It’s fair to say that Barnsley FC’s approach to loans over the last few years has left a lot to be desired.
We have loaned players that have flicked the Vs at us such as American nonentity Brek Shea and those you look at for hour after hour trying to decide which careers advisor indicated that professional footballer was the career path for them (step forward Maceo Rigters, Frank Nouble and a cast of thousands). Of course there has been an occasional shining light such as Kieron Trippier and Danny Drinkwater but it’s fair to say that the chaff has outnumbered the wheat.
Following our relegation to League 1 or Division 3 in old money the powers that stalk the corridors at Oakwell like stalky things decided on a change of focus. Out went loans for older more expensive players, in came youth team players who were seeking regular first team football. Casting envious eyes on the Peterboring United model of hanging round Carrington and offering young players glamorous trips to Crewe and Shrewsbury we started to try to follow this path. Initially we took Devante Cole from United’s noisy neighbours then in January Ben Pearson joined us on loan looking like a cross between a chunkier Howard Wolowitz and someone who should be in a non-descript indie band (let’s say Shed 7 circa 1999). Pearson had run the game when a gang of Manchester United’s fresh faced urchins had pitched up at Oakwell in pre-season and destroyed our ramshackle bunch of free transfers and we had apparently been pursuing him ever since.
We had dipped our toes in the Old Trafford loan market tentatively over the last 10 years with varying degrees of success. From the excellent Drinkwater, super sub Danny Nardiello to the instantly forgettable Eckersley and Ritchie Jones on to the truly appalling Ryan Tunnicliffe. This time for anyone who had seen him pre-season and with a lot of United fans singing his praises hopes were high when we signed Pearson. A competitive Oldham supporting central midfielder it was hard not to hope for the next Paul Scholes.
Ben made his debut in a home game against Yeovil town shining in a fairly dour game showing great energy a positive attitude and some strong running with the ball despite this being his professional debut he seemed to supply an old head in a young midfield. Supporting the defence, fierce in the tackle and retaining possession well he won man of the match (and deservedly so). By the end of January he had played three times and added his first (and so far only goal) in professional football. Against Port Vale in late January Ben picked the ball up on the edge of our area and ran and ran and ran taking the ball past a few Vale defenders along the way before a kind deflection helped the ball past visiting keeper Chris Neal
February saw conflicting fortunes for Pearson and Barnsley with Ben being an ever present and turning in some impressive displays while indifferent results saw manager Danny Wilson sacked and replaced by squeaky voiced Joe Pasquale impersonator Lee Johnson. These changes seem to have little impact on Ben as we went on an unbeaten run in late February/early March and he played a prominent part when we won 6 games on the ping
Late March/April saw the first Pearson face his first real challenges. The lung bursting runs that had been prominent in his early displays had vanished and perhaps the weaknesses in his game became more apparent. While still providing excellent defensive cover he seemed less able to exert any positive influences on games and was looking for the sideways pass and the easy option. The bloke behind me in his pork pie hat christened him The Crab in homage to Ray Wilkins. Still these criticisms are a little harsh and he quickly established himself as an integral part of our team. Never giving less than the required effort and becoming a fans favourite. In terms of his development he was playing alongside excellent new signing Josh Scowen and they worked well as a team but it’s fair to say that Scowen was the more dynamic of the two and eclipsed Ben a little.
By the end of the season Ben had started 21 games and been used as a sub once with the goal against Port Vale remaining his solitary strike. Overall Ben’s contribution was an overwhelmingly positive one. The positives in his play being his drive and enthusiasm coupled with ability in tight areas and a great short passing game. Negatives being his lack of progressive passing and the loss of some of that drive as the season wore off. It’s fair to say shooting is not his forte with the good burghers of the pie stall in more danger than the net most times that he tried.
I guess overall perhaps, the expectations, we had of him were not quite met. His was not a season defining signing we made little or no progress on the pitch with him anchoring midfield. This is not to take away the fact that you would imagine that any manager at League 1 level would have him as one of the first names on the team sheet. It is difficult to see Pearson having much of an impact at Old Trafford expectations that he could trouble the first team seem quite wide of the mark even allowing for development over the next few years. If you were to mark his first half season out of 10 you would give him a solid 7 always providing a contribution but rarely dominating games.
Fast forward a couple of months and Pearson is back on loan at sunny Oakwell bringing along Joe Rothwell for company. Rothwell has struggled for both game time and impact thus far. One excellent performance in a League Cup game away to Scunthorpe being balanced against a couple of poorer ones in league games where he has been as anonymous as an alcoholic on the 12 step programme. With the signing of Arsenal Wunderkind Dan Crowley it is difficult to see him getting much game time but its early days.
Ben has slotted straight back into the team being an ever present in the league and playing significant roles in both our league cup ties missing a penalty in the shoot-out against Scunthorpe United in round one and slotting in very well at right wing back in the televised game against Everton. The tactics of our manager seem to be doing him a bit of a disservice with Ben asked to sit back often with another midfield sitter at the side of him. Again performances on the whole are a very steady 7 he rarely looks outstanding but does the simple things well and provides a constant level of performance.
Again the deficiencies in his game are his offensive passing he often reacts too late to pass to runners and goes for the simple square ball and you feel there is more to come from him. This is balanced against his competitiveness, calmness and confidence in his own abilities. It seems at this stage more feasible for us to sign him permanently beyond his loan period rather than him to make any impact at Old Trafford and that might be the best move for all concerned as we could provide the platform he needs to develop into a strong Championship (and potentially above) player.