Stuart Pearce has given the biggest indication yet that he is prepared to lead England into the European Championship after stamping his mark on the squad during the build-up before tonight's friendly with the Netherlands.
Pearce has clicked into what he calls "tournament management", offering the FA a possible alternative to making a long-term or even snap decision on the successor to Fabio Capello as manager.
He has held a group meeting to inform the players of what length break they will have before the finals begin in Ukraine and Poland in June; he has told them when they will have to report ahead of the competition; and there has been a tinkering behind the scenes that proves Pearce is ready to stay in control beyond tonight's game if he is afforded the opportunity.
Pearce could yet decide to alter the destination of England's warm-weather training camp ahead of the competition. Capello had originally intended to take the squad to the Marbella Paradise of Football and Sports but again, that is now under reconsideration, and the current England Under-21 coach, whose remit is technically only to see the full side through tonight's game, has even added penalty shoot-outs to the end of coaching sessions.
"I've been asked by the FA to step in for this game and there's been no promises from the FA to me," he said. "All that's happened is that I've put some plans into place. Fabio had most of the planning and training camp put into place and I've tinkered with that slightly. I've made my recommendations to the FA in regard to our preparation time, where it might be and I've outlined that to the players. The first meeting I had was with staff and players yesterday morning so they know the exact squad meet-up dates, get-together dates and everything is outlined. I felt I had to do that, not just because of the possibility I might take over in the summer, but for the next man in the door. It's going to be very, very tight, I suspect, unless we get someone in the next two or three weeks, and hotels and training grounds have to be booked. I thought it was part of my job to make those recommendations and that's what I've done.
"The FA were quickly aware of my thoughts in terms of a short-term succession. I have made it quite clear about how I see my future, and they are in the process of looking for a candidate who has got a fantastic CV that they feel can push us forward as a nation. I will be fully supportive of that individual in any way, shape or form."
Perhaps Pearce gave the biggest indication of what his current position, albeit as the temporary focal point of English football, means to him when he spoke of the pride he felt as a player during his time with the national side. "I played in the Champions League for Newcastle and when I get asked about my proudest moment it is not playing in the Champions League, it is playing for and captaining England and I can only view it as I see it and what I hold dear in my heart," he said.
"When you play for your country that is the true pinnacle of anyone's career. I think that is still the case for players. I think sometimes we look back with rose-tinted glasses. If you ask James Milner, Joe Hart, Micah Richards, if you ask anyone is in the squad, they are desperate to be here."
Of more immediate concern to Pearce is picking together the pieces of a squad once again depleted by withdrawals, the latest of which was Glen Johnson, who was replaced by Joleon Lescott.
There is a chronic lack of experience in the striking department for tonight's game, something that the suspension to Wayne Rooney for two games and the ankle injury suffered by Darren Bent means will still be a problem at the start of Euro 2012.
Danny Welbeck, Fraizer Campbell and Daniel Sturridge have just four caps between them but Pearce added: "The other strikers are in the squad to play. Everyone comes through the door to play. I don't bring them through just to see their faces in front of mine. I pick up everything in training, certain individuals you think: 'He's got his tail up.' Others you think: 'Well, hang on...' Then you look at your team formation and you pick a team accordingly. We have to learn something from the game on Wednesday evening if we can.
"We've got a group of players who are desperate to be here. A lot of the players had extra time on Sunday and won a trophy, but they want to be here. We've taken care of them in training. We gave them a recovery day on Monday. There are no excuses, really. We've taken care of them, but need them to be at full tilt when they play for their country. They're quite comfortable in their own minds and bodies."
As, increasingly, is Pearce in his current position. "Whenever I'm asked about it, I always bark on about it. You have to have tournament experience. For us, to try and get these young players to major tournaments at the younger age groups, and have a tilt at winning them if you can, is really important."
Pearce rejects any comparison to 'great' Clough
Who knows where the electrician formerly known as Stuart Pearce would have ended up without Brian Clough? Bobby Gould, then at Coventry City, took Pearce from non-League Wealdstone and offered him a different path in life but it was Clough, after signing him for Nottingham Forest as part of a deal for Ian Butterworth, who pointed the then 23-year-old towards an international career.
Clough had won two European Cup with Forest, a club outside the recognised elite, but he was rejected by the Football Association for the top job in the English game. Pearce was sacked as manager of Manchester City and has not worked in the club game since but he has been afforded the top honour tonight, if only as a stand-in.
Pearce said: "As we stand here at the moment I am fulfilling a role for the Football Association at international management and I am working in the building at this moment in time. I wouldn't even dream of comparing myself to Brian Clough. He is one of the handful of managers that have achieved greatness, in my eyes.
"I have no idea [if England missed out by not appointing him]. At club level he was fantastic for me and shaped me as an individual and shaped me as a footballer in every way. I worked with Brian from the age of 23 to 31 – I spent eight years with him. I think anyone who rubbed shoulders with Brian even over the shortest of periods, you can't help but be washed away by the way he shapes the team, his CV, you know, back-to-back European Cups. You know he goes before all of us.
"There is no comparison between myself and Brian, that is for sure. I wish there was."
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