Currently preparing for his third tournament as Coach, Pearce led the young lions to finishes of third in 2007 and second in 2009, and has designs on going one further in 2011. Defeat to Germany in the final of the last tournament – the 4-0 hammering a portent of the senior side’s fate a year later – marred a successful competition that included a group stage draw with the eventual champions and a 2-0 victory over Spain’s highly-rated young side. Having overcome Sweden on penalties in the semi-final – Pearce’s first victory at that stage with England, in three attempts – the final defeat was a crushing blow. Two years on, however, and with Germany’s failure to qualify, England’s strong performance leaves them amongst the favourites in Denmark.
Should Pearce take his side to victory it will be the crowning achievement of a managerial career that began at Manchester City in 2005. Replacing Kevin Keegan, originally as caretaker, Pearce guided the Blues to the brink of European qualification, falling just a missed Robbie Fowler penalty short of the UEFA Cup. Pearce, long considered an eccentric for his love of punk music and poetry, proved to be just as unconventional as a manager. On the last day of the 2004-05 season, with City needing to beat Middlesbrough to reach continental action and the game tied at 1-1, Pearce, with a matter of months managerial experience under his belt and in dire need of a goal, pushed David James forward as a makeshift striker for the last few minutes of the tie. James may not have helped City to Europe but another unusual decision, allowing Joe Hart to take a penalty in the semi-final shootout against Sweden, did pay off, as the City stopper converted to help England to the final.
By the time Pearce left City in 2007 he was already in part-time charge of the England Under-21s. Taking the role permanently after that year’s third-place finish in Holland, Pearce was added to the senior coaching set-up upon Fabio Capello’s appointment in 2008 and worked with the Italian at the World Cup last year. Like the senior side, Pearce’s youngsters will line up in a 4-3-3 formation, making the most of the plethora of central midfielders at his disposal – even without Jack Wilshere – and the mass of speedy strikers in the squad. Once tipped as a future England senior manager during his Manchester City reign, bringing the trophy home would restore what was a burgeoning reputation. With a tricky group consisting of Ukraine, Czech Republic and Spain, however, Pearce will have to call on all the experience gained from nearly 1000 club games and another 78 England appearances if the hurt of 2009 is to be undone.