There are two images of Stuart Pearce. One is the famously twisted face, a roaring expression of relief, pride, guts and above all commitment to his country's cause, after scoring in England's collector's item of a penalty shoot-out triumph against Spain at Euro '96.
But that was 16 years ago and perceptions change. Now there is another public image that Pearce has to contend with; the YouTube clip of Fabio Capello giving him a verbal workout as Pearce perches alongside the Italian during the 2010 World Cup. It came during England's struggle to beat Slovenia and it appears as if Capello is taking his frustrations out on Pearce, ordering him to stand up, sit down. Pearce does what he is told.
Within the FA, Pearce is liked and respected, although whether that extends to the senior members of the national side remains to be seen. Pearce turns 50 in April but in managerial terms he does not have the day-to-day experience to match many contemporaries. He has already said he is not looking to succeed Capello because he does not feel he knows enough about the job to make such a large step. Never mind how others view him, Pearce sees himself as a work in progress.
He had though no hesitation in saying yes when David Bernstein rang yesterday morning to ask him to take on a caretaker role because Pearce is, in a characteristic familiar with his playing days, absolutely committed to the organisation for which he has worked for five years. "We need a short-term, quick answer. We have a team of good football people within the FA set-up and Stuart is one of them," said Bernstein, who insists he will leave Pearce to decide who will wear the captain's armband. "As you might expect from Stuart, his first thought was for his country and for managing his country without any conditions at all. He just said, 'If you would like me to do it, I want to do it'."
Prior to joining what Bernstein calls "the organisation", Pearce, who was capped 78 times by England, had two relatively brief spells managing Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. He was still a player when he temporarily took charge at Forest in 1996 for 23 games, winning seven and losing seven. In two years at City, after a bright start that first saw him prematurely identified as a prospective England manager, he lost more than he won and was dismissed in 2007. By then he had already began working with England's under-21 side.
Pearce's record has been mixed over three European Championship campaigns. In 2007 England reached the last four – losing 13-12 on penalties to the Dutch. Two years later a team including Joe Hart, James Milner, Theo Walcott and Micah Richards reached the final only to be thumped 4-0 by Germany. Last summer with a core of the players touted as England's bright future – [Phil] Jones, [Chris] Smalling, [Tom] Cleverley, [Kyle] Walker, [Danny] Welbeck, [Daniel] Sturridge – Pearce's side failed to get past the group stage. They scored two goals in three games and were castigated for an over-reliance on overly direct football.
Many, if not all, of the squad he selects to face the Dutch will be familiar with his approach. "It is a very similar situation to me," said Stuart Lancaster, England's stand-in rugby coach who is a friend of Pearce's. "It's a complicated dynamic, I suspect. You have got to understand it before you try and solve it."
On Wednesday, Pearce was in Edinburgh to watch Heart of Midlothian play Celtic as part of his role as manager of the Great Britain team in this summer's Olympics. Those who know him describe an honest, straightforward and committed man, someone easy to work alongside. He does not long for the limelight, but for three days at the end of February he has the opportunity to create a lasting image before stepping back into the shadows.
Stuart Pearce's CV
1996-97 Nottingham Forest (player-manager): P23 W7 D9 L7 Win% 30.43
2005-07 Manchester City: P97 W34 D20 L43 Win% 35.05
2007-present England Under-21: P41 W23 D13 L5 Win% 56.10
2012 Great Britain Olympics team
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