Having played in the Championship, League One and League Two; Jason Pearce has still not given up on his Premier League dream, despite suffering relegation last season with Wigan Athletic.
The 27-year-old, who joined the Latics from Leeds United back in January, couldn’t help turn around the club’s misfortunes as they dropped into the third-tier of English football for the first time since 2003.
However; since Wigan spent eight consecutive seasons in the English top-flight between 2005 and 2013, the centre-half still believes the club has Premier League pedigree and is determined to help the Latics return to the Championship at the first attempt come the end of the season.
Gary Caldwell’s side were dealt some harsh reality on their return to League One last month, losing 2-0 at Coventry City on the opening day of the season, but results have improved since then, propelling the Latics into the race for promotion.
Pearce spoke exclusively to Shoot about his move to the DW Stadium, Wigan boss Caldwell, his Football League experience and his former club AFC Bournemouth’s rise to fame.
You joined Wigan back in January. How are you enjoying life here?
“Yeah I am really enjoying it. I am settled with my family. I have got a little boy, a wife and we are really settled now. So I just want to have a good season this year and try and get ourselves back up into the Championship.”
Last season; you suffered relegation from the Championship. You obviously didn’t envisage the club doing that when you first joined?
“Obviously it was in the back of my mind, but I was sort of hoping that we might have been able to turn it around; we still had enough time. But it didn’t work out in the end. I think people looking in saw the squad that Wigan had at the time – we had some very, very good players there. So that was very disappointing.”
Being in League One, have you been surprised by the quality of football played in the third tier of English football?
“Yeah. I mean I have played in League Two, League One and the Championship. I think it had always been good, but over the years I think it is getting better and better because of the foreign players coming into the league now. English players are slowly dropping down. So yeah, it is a really competitive league and it has been a tough start.”
Has the standard improved compared to your time with Bournemouth in the league?
“There is a lot of players that I have played in League One that I played against in the Championship. So obviously they have sort of moved on and moved up. And there are still some that are playing in League One. But no, I think there are still players that could be playing higher.”
Is the club’s aim simple; get back to the Championship at the first attempt?
“Yeah, I think so. With the additions that the club have made and the quality that we have got at the club, I think promotion is definitely the aim. But it is going to be a tough season and it will take time for the lads to gel together. There are so many new players here, so hopefully we can stick in there for the first part of the season and then give it a really good push during the second-half.”
You have Will Grigg leading your attack. How much confidence does it give the rest of the team knowing you have a prolific striker at this level?
“Yeah, I think it helps massively. I have been at clubs and sometimes we haven’t always had that prolific striker. For example at Leeds [United]; we had Ross McCormack and it was great to have someone like that. Coming here; when you sign someone like Will Grigg, who scored so many goals last season in League One, it gives you that confidence that he is going to provide those goals and we have got to keep it shut at the back.”
Manager Gary Caldwell is a vastly experienced centre-half himself. What impact has he made on you at the start of his managerial career?
“Well, Malky Mackay brought me here and the gaffer [Gary Caldwell] was a player-coach then. I did a lot of work with him after training to try and improve my game. So he has been great with me. And then since he took the managerial side, he has been very good. I have been really impressed with the way he has been and the ideas he has. I think he will have a big future in the game.”
Do you enjoy working under a boss that specialised in your position?
“Yeah. He does a lot of drills when working with the centre-halves and it helps to improve your game. The way he wants to play the game, and our football this year, is just passing it out from the back and it is different at times from what I have been used to. It is really good though and I am enjoying playing under him and hopefully we can do well.”
Fellow centre-back Leon Barnett has been popping up with a few goals. Are you aiming to match him in the goalscoring department?
“There is not really a rivalry, I think it is more of the strikers who want to score a lot of goals! But no, as a defender, you just want to try and come up with a few goals. Last year; when I first joined, I scored two from January until the end of the season. Obviously I want to come up with a few important goals for the team. But my main aim is to try and obviously keep them out and keep a few clean sheets. We have let in a few goals recently, so it has been a bit disappointing.”
You are vice-captain at Wigan; you have previously been captain at Portsmouth, Leeds and Bournemouth. Is that a responsibility that you relish?
“Yeah, I enjoy it. I feel like I am a leader, on and off the pitch. I feel I have gained the respect of the lads by the way I play. I relish being captain of any club – it is an honour. So to be vice-captain here is a big honour and I am proud to be it.”
At board level, Dave Whelan handed over to his grandson, David Sharpe, back in March. Do you see him much?
“Yeah, we do. He has learnt quite a lot to be fair. He obviously speaks to the lads. It is weird obviously; because when he wasn’t the chairman, I called him by his name. But now we have to call him chairman, which is obviously respectful. He is around a lot which is nice. Obviously if we get a few wins, he comes in with a happy face. It is good.”
Is he quite hands on?
“He is with the gaffer and the coaching staff. We have brought in so many players, I think we needed him to be around just with the additions that were coming in and people going out. It is nice to have the chairman around. Other clubs that I have been at, that hasn’t always happened.”
You rose through the youth ranks at Portsmouth, but was released from the club before making a first-team appearance. How hard was that to stomach as a young footballer?
“Not hard at all, to be honest. When I was there; Harry Redknapp was the manager and I was only a young lad, training with the first-team. But obviously they had a lot of good players there and he said to me to go on loan and get some experience. Bournemouth came in for me and he said it would be a great move. In the end, they turned it into a permanent two-year contract. I was delighted to make the move, to be honest. I felt like it was the right thing for me to go and play games. I was fortunate to play a lot of games there. So no, I was pleased with the advice he gave me. When you see some of the lads here that aren’t playing and aren’t getting game time in the first-team, we always advise them to go out on loan to get that experience.”
You also had a spell under Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. Did you ever envisage where they’d be now back when you were playing for them?
“No, not at all. They have done remarkably well and obviously I was part of the team that nearly went out of the Football League when we stayed up and then got promotion. It was a great time at the club and when I left, we had just missed out in the League One play-off semi-finals and I thought it was the right time in my career to move on and play in the Championship. Since then; Bournemouth have gone up and up and up, but I’m pleased. I always look out for their results and I am delighted they are doing so well. I still know some of the boys down there and obviously Eddie [Howe] and Jason Tindall, so I wish them all the best.”