At the end of last season someone said to me that they were surprised that Johnny Mullins had been released and not Jake Wright. I said that I thought it was probably a question of timing; if Wright’s contract had been up and it was Mullins’ with another year to run, then Wright would probably have gone. Now, unexpectedly, he has.
The fact he featured in this season’s kit launch suggests Wright’s departure wasn’t planned. When Curtin Nelson signed, Wright’s fellow centre back Chey Dunkley posted an angsty tweet implying that four centre-backs into two slots didn’t fit. Logically, either Dunkley or Wright’s future at the club were suddenly under threat.
My guess is that Wright wasn’t due to leave, but when the wheels began to turn on Roofe’s move to Leeds, and Curtis Nelson became available, suddenly the money and the will to land Nelson were both in place, despite meaning we would be desperately overloaded in the centre of defence.
With Aaron Martin already on-board and with Chey Dunkley’s form, age and wage, things were tipping against Jake Wright.
Wright’s time at the club was not universally a happy one. He was pretty shaky when he initially joined, replacing the very popular Luke Foster. He was generally better in an equal partnership or where he was the prime organiser. With the more dominant Michael Duberry he was more prone to mistakes, but with Mullins or Mark Creighton he was far better. His partnership with Dunkley was excellent, but Dunkley is becoming a commanding presence on the pitch and I can only see that growing next season. That could have affected Wright’s form. He was also a particular target in the aftermath of Chris Wilder’s departure to Northampton although Wright’s under-par performances were more likely due to a lingering back problem than a lack of motivation.
But, Wright could be an absolutely majestic defender, he timed tackles perfectly and read the game beautifully. He adapted brilliantly when we shifted from Wilder’s direct style and Appleton’s more technical, passing approach. If he needed to do the dirty work, then he could do that too.
Above all, though, his overriding quality was as a leader. He was an enigmatic presence; serious and focussed. He didn’t have Twitter or Instagram, you only saw him on the pitch doing his work. When he did reveal his passion, when Alfie Potter scored in the last minute against Swindon in the JPT or after the final whistle against Wycombe, you felt privileged to have been allowed into his world. It was a rare quality and one that will be hard to replace.
On the pitch his influence was huge. Compare two incidences from last year. Against Orient at home, with Johnny Mullins as captain, an argument broke out between Chris Maguire and Kemar Roofe over a free-kick. Mullins didn’t interject and things got heated and players were left frustrated. Against Stevenage, it was Roofe and Sercombe, with Jake Wright wearing the armband, he strode up to the duo, squabbling over who would take a penalty, and made a decision that everyone accepted without a word.
In May I celebrated the 10th anniversary of this blog with a Twitter tournament to find the best player of the last decade. Despite competition from the likes of James Constable, Kemar Roofe and Danny Hylton, Wright romped to victory. It seems he benefitted from the ‘tournament’ format which forced people to think, and re-think about their choices. Perhaps in a straight vote he wouldn’t have won. Maybe that sums Wright up, not an immediate choice for a club legend, but a considered one, and no less deserving because of it.