Paul Mullin is a star courtesy of Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney and a brilliant documentary series that has transported Hollywood to north Wales.
The 28-year-old centre-forward’s career had been low-key and he was something of a journeyman-in-waiting. Mullin graduated from Huddersfield Town’s academy but, after a brief spell on loan at sixth-tier Vauxhall Motors aged 20, left without playing a game for their senior side. He was picked up by Morecambe, then moved to Swindon Town, Tranmere Rovers and Cambridge United, where he finally made a name for himself.
As my cameo in the cult football movie Goal! demonstrates, the path from pitch to red carpet is hazardous. Like Mullin, I have my own page on the IMDb website, but it’s doubtful mine will be updated any time soon. Put it this way, I was not in the running for best supporting actor at the Oscars. My performance was so wooden, I could easily have sprouted leaves and taken root.
Mullin, though, is box office, which is a strange old situation when you consider that he, like his team-mates, is playing in England’s fifth tier. And although I wouldn’t normally be poring over clips to analyse a striker’s qualities at that level, I thought it might be fun to make an exception here, to take a deep dive and see what makes “Super” Paul Mullin quite so super.
Inside Wrexham’s Hollywood revolution
Let’s start with the most basic of basics. Strikers have different styles and qualities, but I have one golden rule for playing as a No 9: you have to score goals and Mullin is scoring a bag-full for Wrexham. There is something a bit different about the people who play in our position; not quite a thirst for the spotlight, but a fierce hunger for goals and that moment of release and adulation. Maybe buried within that is a touch of theatre.
People might question the quality of the National League and Mullin received criticism for dropping down two divisions when he joined Wrexham in the summer of 2021. That’s unfair. Careers are short and unpredictable and don’t have to be linear. You have to look at the bigger picture and, at Wrexham, he is part of a fascinating, compelling project that does not look like it will be in the National League (four tiers below the Premier League) for much longer.
His career move was a risk in one sense, but it has paid off. He scored 32 times and won the League Two Golden Boot (by 13 goals) in the 2020-21 season. Mullin had never even reached 10 goals in his seven previous seasons as a first-team player, which had all been played in League Two with the exception of one season with Tranmere Rovers in League One.
To go to a different club, with a new style and head coach, playing with different team-mates, shows quality and resilience. Mullin scored 26 league goals in 38 appearances in his debut Wrexham campaign and won the league’s player of the season award.
His stats look even better this season: he has scored 37 times in 42 games across all competitions at a rate of a goal every 97 minutes. Mullin scored in each of the first four rounds of the FA Cup, the first non-League player to do so in 38 years. All goals are worth the same but some mean more.
Paul Mullin’s 2022-23 FA Cup Record:
4th Qual Round (replay) vs Blyth: ️⚽️
Round 1 vs Oldham: ️⚽️️⚽️
Round 2 vs Farnborough: ️⚽️️⚽️️⚽️
Round 3 vs Coventry: ️⚽️
Round 4 vs Sheff Utd: ️⚽️
Round 4 (replay) vs Sheff Utd: ️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/81wI6BqGW4
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) February 7, 2023
I can relate to his career trajectory. Though I scored a hat-trick at home to Arsenal on my first senior start (at Southampton) in September 1988, it took me over a year to score again, with 10 goalless appearances the following season. Only in 1991-92, my fifth season at senior level, did I first reach double digits (13 goals in 41 games).
Once I got settled, the goals started and did not stop. Mullin is showing something similar.
Wrexham’s ownership situation is unique, giving them the facilities, squad and budget that others do not have. As a player, though, the stability and buy-in they have shown are hugely reassuring and give Mullin the freedom to go out and play with confidence — exactly what a striker needs.
Look through the footage and his wide repertoire of goals is impressive. Mullin scores from a variety of situations with his feet and head, despite not being the tallest of strikers (5ft 10in; 177cm): one-touch finishes from crosses, quick combinations after making regains from a high press, shots after dribbles inside — albeit with a slightly unorthodox running technique — and even from runs in behind when Wrexham take long goal kicks. Mullin scores them all.
As a modern striker, being adaptable is essential because opponents analyse you in-depth. You need to have enough diversity in your game to adjust tactically during matches and solve whatever problems the defence throws at you.
Mullin has scored goals at League Two level before, so I see no reason he would not continue this form if Wrexham earn promotion — only first place guarantees promotion from the National League but they are top by one point and have a game in hand on second-placed Notts County.
At the highest level, forwards are not just centre-forwards now. Erling Haaland and others like him still thrive from central areas, but many No 9s will roam into wide areas and interchange positions with team-mates. Mullin is more old-fashioned in his profile, doing most of his work across the width of the penalty area.
He mixes his game well, sometimes running off the shoulder of the centre-back but also dropping deeper, able to bring team-mates into play and connect the midfielders and attackers.
This keeps defenders guessing, which is so important for a striker. Being unpredictable gets you time and space to score goals or create chances for others.
Mullin’s attitude is excellent. He is the perfect balance of selfless and selfish, constantly running the channels and hassling defenders, but he knows when to shoot, too.
This means Wrexham can defend from the front and higher up the pitch, win the ball back more and spend a greater amount of time attacking rather than defending.
They have scored the most goals per game in the National League this season (2.57, slightly higher than Notts County’s 2.53) and had the best attack in the division last season (91 goals). Mullin was their top scorer then and is now, but strike partner Ollie Palmer scored 15 times last season after moving from AFC Wimbledon and has 16 this campaign — he improves the all-round attack and gets the best out of his team-mates.
Good strikers are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and understand their role in the team. Like Mullin, I was not the tallest and would have to pick my moments to challenge defenders in the air. Mullin is a smart runner and at set pieces, he often stands in ‘false’ positions to then spin away from his marker and into space.
Palmer (6ft 5in; 196cm) is often the target at set pieces. Wrexham’s not-so-secret weapon is a long throw from Ben Tozer. Mullin plays to his strength in these situations, landing on flick-ons well. One example is at home to Grimsby Town in the play-off semi-final last season, which Wrexham lost 5-4.
Of Wrexham’s attackers in the box, Mullin is the farthest from goal but spins his marker.
He then attacks the back post as Tozer makes his run-up and meets Palmer’s flick-on. As a striker, this is the best area to attack and I was taught that if you can see the defender’s number you are positioned correctly because they cannot simultaneously see you and the ball.
He clearly trusts his team-mates to provide. His goal in the first minute away to Stockport County last season showed that. Mullin was positioned on the halfway line with Wrexham defending a long throw, and if you are left upfield while the rest of the team is defending then it is for a reason.
As soon as goalkeeper Robert Lainton makes the save, Mullin has pulled wide into a position where he can see the defender’s number and runs in behind onto the goalkeeper’s kick. This is Mullin’s first action of the game, but he stays composed and takes his time, chipping the goalkeeper.
That composure is visible in his penalty-taking, too. All strikers should want to take penalties; they are valuable opportunities to score. Every striker has a different style and how it looks does not matter — you just need to put the ball in the goal.
Mullin often goes for power and shoots high, but he has started to place some more into the corners. His miss away to Sheffield United in the FA Cup fourth round will stick with him, but he has become more accurate as a penalty taker, further proof that he is more confident and settled.
Mullin has scored 15 of his 17 penalties since the start of last season (88.2 per cent conversion), including match-winning, stoppage-time penalties at home to Eastleigh (3-2) and away to Oldham Athletic (2-1).
There are plenty of comparisons that can be drawn between Wrexham and Mullin: a club and a player who are attracting attention and have really come to life.
He will be well aware of the cameras, but Mullin has used this attention positively. He has put messages on his boots (some of them more controversial than others) and recently wore ear defenders when walking out of the tunnel for the home game against Sheffield United to raise awareness for autism.
How far Wrexham and Mullin can go is hard to predict. The higher they climb, the greater the challenge and the more other teams will see them coming. They will take delight in re-writing the script. Yet here we are in awards season and, in more ways than one, they’re a pleasure to watch. And if Mullin has designs on a career change post-football and a move into acting, well, he knows where not to come.
(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)
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