MILLWALL’S third signing of the summer might not have set a lot of pulses racing – but boss Gary Rowett said it would have been “absolutely impossible” to replace Alex Pearce’s leadership if the club skipper had left this pre-season.
Pearce, 32, signed a new contract with the Lions last week. Rowett also secured Scott Malone and George Long on free transfers from Derby and Hull as he reshapes his squad for the 2021-22 season.
Pearce was signed by Neil Harris on loan from the Rams in January 2019 before a permanent move the following summer when he was made club captain.
Former Ireland international Pearce has a battle to gain a first-team place next season, but Rowett has outlined just how influential the defender is.
Rowett said Pearce “spearheads” the “culture” at the club. Pearce’s team-mates have spoken about his leadership qualities, and Rowett explained how tough it would have been to replace that if he had decided not to take the contract offer.
“Absolutely impossible, really,” Rowett said. “You judge players on everything. You have players that are quite quiet and therefore have to perform to their very best level on the pitch.
“You get other players who bring lots of different things to the table as well as their performances on the pitch.
“Al knows he’s not going to start every game, he’s not going to play every minute. But he wants to and that’s why he’s been such a good professional.
“He’s got such great leadership. If I have an issue, Pearcey sorts it out in the dressing room. Most things don’t get to me because Pearcey sorts it out in the dressing room.
“George Evans talked about a great culture here. Some of that is myself and my staff, and a vast majority of that is the players. Pearcey spearheads that.
“It’s absolutely vital and I‘m really pleased he’s going to be here next year.”
Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace are likely to be ahead of Pearce in the pecking order at the start of next season.
Hayden Muller could also be pushing for the place in the side – if he doesn’t go out on loan – while Ryan Leonard is an option at centre-back.
But Rowett says Pearce has the hunger to gain his place in the team.
“Your squad evolves and you need that competition for places, those different elements in your squad,” Rowett said.
“That comes in lots of different forms, Pearcey understands that.
“But the reason he’s been such a top performer over the years is because he’s got a real desire to go and prove himself all the time.
“What you do is you get a bit more sensible as you get more experienced and you realise you can’t play every minute.
“But not many players can bring what he brings to the group. You hear all the other players talking about it, speak about what he’s about in the dressing room.
“And sometimes that’s hard to portray unless you’re on the inside of the team and on the inside of training.
“He’s a great guy, Pearcey, I’ve got a lot of respect for him and a really good relationship with him.
“I’m pleased we’ll be working together again next year.”
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