Continuing to look at players who have thrived at Preston having been let go by ‘bigger’ sides, it’s time to talk about Ben Pearson.
For more than three years now, Pearson has been the heartbeat of the Preston side. He has become a Deepdale hero for many reasons; his tenacity, his relentless work rate, his quality on the ball and his penchant for the ‘dark arts’ of the game.
There probably isn’t a fanbase in the Championship that hasn’t been wound up by Pearson at this point. Opposition fans love to hate him; North End fans have nothing but love for him.
The 25-year-old is probably the first name on the Preston team sheet. Alex Neil has made Pearson absolutely integral for North End, helping develop him into arguably the finest holding midfielder in the Championship.
Preston paid just £300,000 to sign him in January 2016, and he didn’t enjoy the greatest of starts. His form was patchy, and some wondered whether he could really take John Welsh’s place in the Preston midfield – especially when Simon Grayson left him out to start the 2016-17 season.
Pearson forced his way into the side in late September, and has been a fixture ever since. He has been a midfield metronome for North End, with the added snide to his game endearing him to many – even if Championship referees are tired of writing his name down.
That £300,000 now looks like a bargain, as Preston can expect to sell him for much, much more. That’s ultimately very likely given that Pearson’s contract expires in 2021, and a Premier League move would be very much deserved.
He may not quite earn a move back to Manchester United, but you do have to wonder whether he would have ended up getting his chance with the Red Devils. Since leaving Old Trafford, Pearson has seen Scott McTominay and James Garner pick up first-team experience with United. In another world, maybe Pearson would have received those same chances, and that move to Preston never would have materialised.
In fact, seven years ago today – May 15th, 2013 – Pearson won a prestigious award at United. Aged 18, Pearson was named United’s Academy Player of the Year, an award also won by Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck over the years.
The lofty comparisons began; the Manchester Evening News compared him to fellow Oldham-born midfielder Paul Scholes. Red Rants even stated ‘youth starlet Ben Pearson has shown he has the potential to be our next Roy Keane’, branding him a ‘tantalising prospect’.
Pearson was never given his United debut, and left his boyhood club for North End at 21. Now a seasoned Championship player with room to get even better, Pearson has far outplayed his £300,000 price tag.
A Premier League meeting with United will surely materialise one day, and hopefully that comes with United. He certainly deserves that chance having excelled since leaving Old Trafford.