There is a well-worn anecdote from Fabio Capello’s England reign that involves him asking Stuart Pearce for his opinion at half-time, as England were labouring in a European Championship qualifier against Andorra. After a scoreless first-half, Pearce suggested maintaining the status quo and moving the ball quicker. Capello responded by withdrawing Stuart Downing and Jermain Defoe, introducing Emile Heskey and Joe Cole in their place. Cole scored twice as England won 2-0. The tale was told to emphasise Capello’s ability to alter proceedings and justify him mammoth salary, but it did little to enhance Pearce’s reputation and emphasises why his temporary inheritance of the role appears such a retrograde step.
In some respects he is the ideal candidate. Fiercely patriotic, during Nottingham Forest’s UEFA Cup campaign in his playing days Pearce aggressively reminded his team mates: “We’re English, remember we’re English” ahead of taking to the pitch. Gary Neville also once recounted that the first time he trained with Pearce on international duty, who was surveying his Wembley surroundings, chanting: “This is our f*****g turf, my f*****g turf.” His passion may be commendable but even a cursory glance at his managerial record undermines his credentials for such prestigious and influential roles.
Taking over from Kevin Keegan in March 2005, Pearce achieved a 15th and 14th placed finish in his two full seasons in charge at Manchester City before being dismissed, under par results despite occurring prior to substantial investment. During the final few months of his time in charge, in a precursor to his current situation, he also took charge of the England U-21 side on a part-time basis, with the role becoming full-time after being relieved of his domestic duties.
He made a promising start, reaching the semi-finals of the European U-21 Championships in 2007 before losing to Holland on penalties. He exceeded this achievement two years later, making the final before being cruelly dismantled by an outstanding Germany side in a 4-0 defeat. Much of this good work was subsequently undone last year, when England failed to win any of their group games or qualify for the knockout stages, and Pearce is perhaps fortunate that he managed to agree a contract extension prior to the tournament. The majority of Pearce’s senior squad selection is made up of players he has managed at U-21 level, including potential debutant Fraizer Campbell.
In every sense, Pearce is the quintessential safe pair of hands that is required at present. He has also mellowed since his playing days, as lucky mascot Beanie the Horse could attest if the stuffed toy was capable of speech. Wednesday’s result is unlikely to enhance or diminish Pearce’s reputation significantly and once the fixture has been navigated, his attention can return to the unenviable task of whittling down a Team GB long list of 184 candidates.
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