It was the moment when Bernardo Corradi discovered that his manager's cold shoulder is straight out of the butcher's chill room. A studious refusal to engage in any form of eye contact as the Italian international stalked off, having incurred the referee Graham Poll's displeasure, told us everything about Stuart Pearce's contempt for the act perpetrated by his striker.
Corradi had been guilty of what English football prefers to pretend is a foreign disease, though the virus has evidently incubated within several home-based players. His last-minute dismissal after two cautions at Old Trafford, the latter for simulation, was followed by Pearce denouncing his player's theatr-ical fall over John O'Shea's leg as "cheap" and insisting, like a Victorian headmaster about to administer the cane, that he would "educate him".
In a world in which a player's dive and his manager's denial are inextricably linked, the Manchester City manager, already applauded for his refusal to condemn refereeing aberr-ations, was elevated even further in our estimation.
Six days later, on a miserable, grey morning at City's training ground, Pearce claims vehemently that he is no latter-day Mary Whitehouse, come to clean up English football as some kind of standard-bearer of a moral crusade. "Look, I know how it works," says the Londoner. "It goes all round that Stuart Pearce is a shining light, and then if one of my players goes down cheaply on Sunday [today, against Spurs at the City of Manchester Stadium], I'll have everybody shoving me up there again, saying, 'Go on; ban him, ban him'. And I'm under big pressure. I'm not prepared to come out and say, 'I'm the example. The rest of you should follow my lead'.
He adds: "I don't want to end up as the manager who's witch-hunting his own players... in the full knowledge that the whole football industry out there is going to put its head in the sand and make out they've not seen things. If I did that, I'd lose the whole dressing room, and then I'm not a manager any more."
Nevertheless, in a sometimes fetid Premiership environment in which cheats have been known to prosper, his words represent an uncompromising blast of fresh air. "In the main the majority of the fans here, hopefully, are proud of me, though some will turn up at supporters' club meetings, and say, 'You're too honest, so we don't get decisions as a football club'," he says, attempting to explain the fine balancing line between being a paragon and a pragmatist. "I can understand that point of view. They look at other managers who are continually niggling away at referees for the reason they think they're going to get more decisions, possibly."
Not that some judgements by officials don't irk him. "On a Monday morning, I'll go through the video of our match and look at some of the decisions, and with all my experience in the game, I can't explain them," he says. "Ben Thatcher is booked within 10 minutes, for obstruction [at Old Trafford]. Wayne Rooney chops someone down in the first half and is not booked. He does the same again in the second, and he is. I don't under-stand. But it's not helpful to the referee or the game to vent my frustration to the world. I choose not to do that."
The mention of Thatcher brings to mind that wild assault by the Welsh international on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes. He has served his eight-match ban, and, almost imperceptibly, returned to the fray, though, admittedly, he is suspended for today's game after accumulating five cautions.
"If I'm being honest, he got booked last Saturday and suspended for Sunday because he was Ben Thatcher - and he was playing against Ronaldo," says Pearce. "His reputation counted against him - as did the reputation of the player he was up against. Make no mistake, every time he steps on the pitch now, he's under a lot of pressure. He's been exemplary since he's come back. He's not a shrinking violet on the pitch. But he's played it fairly with the rules."
Pearce adds: "I remember the morning after the incident, when he came to see me, you could just look into his eyes and know he won't bullshit you and come up with some harebrained notion that, 'Oh, I was just running in the same direction and caught the kid [Mendes]'. His attitude was, 'Whatever you throw at me, I'll take it. I'll keep my mouth shut and get on with my job'."
Had Pearce considered the ultimate sanction, given the opprobrium Thatcher had brought on the club? "I didn't, to be honest with you," he says, after a slight pause. "If he'd come in with all the bravado in the world, it would have been difficult for me. But he didn't. Ben's got a reputation that leads people to categorise him. But sometimes when you dig a little bit deeper, as I did that morning, and get inside the soul of the man, any bravado is washed away and you see just a family man who's very protective of his wife and children."
If those words sound more appropriate emanating from consulting rooms than within football dressing rooms, it could be said that, in Pearce the manager's case, the epithet "Psycho" refers not to psychopath but psychotherapist. There can be few men better equipped to deal with the more dysfunctional members of his footballing family.
Joey Barton is another who has been transformed during Pearce's stewardship, from the liability the manager said he would quite liked to have sent to a Thai prison for the night after an incident on a pre-season tour to a player on the periphery of England contention.
Clad in jeans, sweater and trainers, as he was here, the 44-year-old Pearce may still pogo at punk concerts, but he commands utmost respect. His men are aware that the former England full-back has been there, done it, and has the opponent's severed limb, metaphorically speaking of course, in his personal trophy room, together with the League Cup medals he won under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest.
"I'd been in the dressing room for many years before I became a manager and coach," he says. "My career's not been whiter than white, make no mistake about that. I had a reputation that followed me; probably similar to Ben's, in some ways. A few misdemeanours went on, as a kid. I've done all that nonsense. So, when you sit in front of the players, it's not as though you're Mother Teresa and you're shocked by it all. You've seen just about everything."
That playing career concluded at City after over a decade with Forest, followed by periods at Newcastle and West Ham. In other circumstances, he could have been a contender for the recent vacancy at Upton Park.
"I think it was too soon to move Alan Pardew on," he says. "I'm very disappointed for him. The fact that he and the Iain Dowies of this world get the sack after a minimum amount of games, it honestly disappoints me. Not because I'm a manager, and somewhere down the line I may lose my job, because that doesn't overly bother me. I'd be able to spend some time with my family and I think I'd get a job elsewhere."
He believes there should be a "transfer window" for managerial changes. "Not to protect Stuart Pearce. Honestly, I don't give a shit really. But for the sakes of the Alan Pardews. He's done three years building that football club, assembling a great squad. You know, West Ham have got a squad of players that's as good as they've probably had since the Bobby Moore era."
Pearce adds: "That's the failing of the English game; more than diving, more than anything else. But then I've got a mentality that says sometimes you've got to look after people, stand by them, when everyone else is running for cover - like with your Ben Thatchers, maybe, or your Joey Bartons."
The ever-increasing desire, by boards, chairmen, supporters, for instant gratification troubles him. "You know, I went to an academy yesterday, somewhere in Europe. I thought it was a fantastic set-up and how I'd love that for Man City. Now we've got a scenario in the window that I might be given x million pounds to spend. Stuart Pearce would love to turn round and say, 'Chairman, keep the money. Go and buy a lovely academy like this place I visited, and let that be a legacy for 20, 30 years'. I feel it's the best decision for the club. But because of the pressure, you know it has to be invested in players."
He knows that the managerial deal in today's ultra-competitive Premiership is to maintain and improve City's Premiership standing each season. Long term is an obsolete concept. Yet there a tone of regret when he adds: "It would be nice if they said to me, 'This job's here for you for 10 years. Spend the money how best you think'.
"Then I'd say, 'Chairman, whatever money you've got, go and build that new academy. That's the right and proper thing to do'."
The latter phrase has tended to follow Pearce around this week and offers hope for the future of the game. But, as he knows only too well, his is a lone voice.
Life & Times: From sparky to the limelight
NAME: Stuart Pearce.
BORN: 24 April 1962, London.
VITAL STATS: 5ft 10in, 12st 9lb.
PLAYING CAREER: Wealdstone 1982-83, Coventry City '83-85, Nottingham Forest '85-97 (522 games, 88 goals), Newcastle '97-99, West Ham '99-'01, Manchester City '01-02. 721 games, 99 goals.
ENGLAND CAREER: Debut v Brazil '87; 78 caps, 5 goals.
MANAGERIAL CAREER: Nottingham Forest '96-97, Manchester City March 2005-current.
HONOURS: League Cup '89, '90; MBE '98; First Division title '01-02.
AND ANOTHER THING: Touted his services as an electrician in Forest's match-day programme.Reuse content