World Cup 2014: Nottingham Forest's manager-in-waiting Stuart Pearce heads to Brazil with part of him believing he should be nearer to the dug-out than the press box
Pearce will be working as a pundit at the World Cup for TalkSPORT before joining up with Forest after his reign as England Under-21 manager ended last year
Stuart Pearce will be heading to Brazil this week as the manager-elect of Nottingham Forest and a pundit for TalkSPORT, but being a patriot with - on his own admission - "a stubborn streak" there is almost certainly a part of him that believes his involvement in the tournament should be closer to the England dug-out.
Until just over two years ago he was a more frequent presence than anyone, regularly rushing from managing the Under-21 team to be with the seniors the next day as assistant to Fabio Capello.
It seemed a useful link between the seniors and juniors and when Capello resigned in February 2012 Pearce was made caretaker manager for one game at home to Holland, even speaking of being prepared to select the Euro 2012 squad if required; "we have great confidence in him," said the Football Association chairman David Bernstein. Capello's successor, Roy Hodgson, did not share that faith, however, bringing in Ray Lewington and Gary Neville as his coaches and at that point, Pearce has now revealed, he decided he would leave the Under-21 job after last year's 2013 European Championship finals in Israel.
As it turned out, the decision was effectively made for him when England lost all three group matches there in feeble fashion. "In all honesty I'd made my mind up a year earlier when I had no involvement with the seniors that my time at the FA was finished," he told the Independent on Sunday.
"Myself and Trevor [Brooking] were just playing cat-and-mouse really. He was waiting for me to jump and I was saying 'you're going to have me to push me' but we both knew in our heart of hearts. He would have been happy for me to make that decision but I've got a stubborn streak so we ended up going to the last day. I had to look and wonder where any progression [for me] was going."
Progression has always been important to him for players and coaches, and for six years as manager of the Under-21s and then the Great Britain Olympic team he banged on about the importance of young talent playing in tournaments in the relevant age-group before moving up.
Instead he discovered "a big black hole" into which too many of them fell, some losing their hunger thanks to a lucrative new contract, others apparently lacking any in the first place: "My first summer tournament with the '21s David Bentley, 'the new David Beckham', said he didn't want to go. He pulled out when I'd already named the 23 so I had to go one short. That told me of the problems I'd be facing and that still have to be solved."
Eventually he was defeated by the sheer numbers unavailable, which reached 17 in Israel but had been even worse with his Under-20 team two years earlier. "That was in Colombia, where the heat and altitude were quite incredible. That was a real eye-opener and it was a shame that more of the youngsters didn't go on that tour because it would have stood them in good stead in Brazil. The only one who went who might have featured this time was Jack Butland, who didn't make the squad for Brazil."
What of those who did make it and are hoping against hope to match Pearce's semi-final appearances at the 1990 World Cup and Euro '96?
"What we normally do as English teams, as in those two tournaments, is gain momentum as we go along. I think we'll get out of the group with probably Uruguay, and the next game after that on paper looks reasonable. So round about the quarter-finals probably. They've played quite expansively, looking as though they can get forward and create chances and also looking as though they can concede goals quite regularly. It's not really what Roy based the team on two years ago and there's a clutch of young players there from who we don't know what to expect in the heat of a World Cup battle so it'll be interesting."
His point is that had they come up through the ranks in more structured fashion, as is the case in other countries, the end result would involve less guesswork. "Our Under-17s have just won the European Championship. But the Under-19s failed to qualify a week ago and so don't qualify for the Under-20 World Cup next summer either.
Why? Because at Under-17 level the Academies are pushing their players forward because of the kudos and they don't pull out. When it comes to the '19s and '21s the whole dynamic changes and you never go to the tournament with your best players and so never win anything."
None of these points have been made to Greg Dyke's commission on the future of the national team, because Pearce, who played 87 times for England, was not asked.
"Maybe," he suggests drily, "I hadn't had enough experience for them to talk to me about international football."
Stuart Pearce was speaking on behalf of Chewits Sport Courses, designed to give children of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy being active. Find out more at www.chewits.premiersport.org
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