It is now just a matter of when Leicester City are promoted, not if, and I’d urge Nigel Pearson to enjoy it while he can. Thank goodness Nigel has got over his health scare because in my experience winning promotion is just the start when it comes to stress.
It is a tremendous feeling winning automatic promotion, especially given that 12 months ago Nigel was coming under a lot of criticism and there was talk that the owners might look elsewhere. They must be glad they decided to stick with him.
I know he spent money before last season, but this year he has hardly spent any, mainly working with the players who reached the play-offs last year. Nigel is hard-working, knows the Championship inside out, and has developed a style that uses his players’ strength, their pace and power. Coupled with tremendous team spirit, they have really taken the division by storm.
The great thing about being in Leicester’s position these last few months is that he has been able to start planning for promotion months ahead, and now he’ll have a head start over the other promoted clubs too. It is very difficult for promoted clubs and, though they will all have their scouts working, it is surprising how often you end up chasing the same players. At QPR I found myself competing with Swansea City and Norwich City, who came up with us, in several cases.
The problem I had was that because the club was being sold I couldn’t sign anyone, so we lost our time advantage and ended up losing out on all our targets. Leicester will be able to get in there first and in Terry Robinson, my old chief executive at Sheffield United, Nigel has someone who will be a great help behind the scenes.
It is so much harder coming up through the play-offs. When you get promoted you have every agent under the sun ringing you and telling you their player is the bee’s knees. You trust some more than others. The team that wins the play-offs has only four or five weeks before pre-season training, so there is no chance of a break. Quite often it’s someone who has come with a late run into sixth place, and they won’t have been planning to be promoted at all. That means a summer of massive turmoil. You simply won’t have had the time to see every player in action before you sign them, so you sometimes have to go on trust.
A summer of that knocked the stuffing out of Ian Holloway at Crystal Palace. He did a remarkable job getting them up, but then said he ended up looking at DVDs with the chairman for hours on end. I’m not saying this happened in Ian’s case, but we’ve all signed someone who looked on video like a world-beater, then seen them in real life and realised we’ve made a mistake. In the last few years I’ve refused to sign anyone on video evidence unless I’ve seen them play whole games. A highlights package is no use.
The first players Nigel will be looking for are two or three who can play in a variety of positions. In the Championship if you get an injury crisis in one position you can get someone in on an emergency loan. In the Premier League, once the window shuts at the end of August that’s your lot until January. You don’t think you can lose three centre-halves in the space of a week, but I did at Sheffield. So you have to be prepared. The big clubs can afford to have 25 internationals in their squads but promoted ones have to work extra hard to get the quality that is needed.
Nigel will want to give the lads who won him promotion a chance to show they can do it in the top flight, and they will want that chance – but he will know he needs to strengthen, which brings its own problems.
There is no point in signing players who are no better than the ones you have, so you sign ones to go straight into the team. But that disappoints the players who got you there. The new ones also tend to cost more in wages, so the promotion-winning players want pay rises too. Before you know it you have a mutiny on your hands. There is so much to do it is almost a relief when the matches start.
A couple of lads who should certainly get a chance to show what they can do are the front pair. Nigel’s really got the best out of them. David Nugent has always been prolific but he’s shown a terrific work ethic this season and created goals as well as score them. Alongside him Jamie Vardy has been a revelation, fully justifying a £1m price tag that raised eyebrows when he signed from Fleetwood.
The central midfielders, Danny Drinkwater and Matty James, have had a good season. They are the type of players who just go about their job, attracting few headlines, but are the first ones on the team sheet. In defence Wes Morgan and Liam Moore, an old hand and a youngster, have been a good combination but Nigel will think long and hard about what to do there because the biggest difference between the Premier League and the Championship is the quality of striker. You can get away with a mistake or two in the Championship, in the Premier League you get punished.
I expect Nigel to bring in a wide player or two, though Lloyd Dyer’s pace is such he’ll always be in the match-day squad in some capacity. There will be some players who perform better than anyone expects. I didn’t think Clint Hill and Shaun Derry would play as many games in the Premier League for QPR but they became key players. Sometimes it is the players who got you up, who have that team spirit, who contribute the most. I remember we won at Everton fielding a team almost entirely of promoted players. Given QPR only stayed up by a point, an unexpected win like that proved hugely significant.
One area Nigel shouldn’t have to worry about is goalkeeper, as Kasper Schmeichel is good enough for the top flight. But like everyone he’ll have an agent, who will be making just that point, and saying he wants a new contract. Oh, I envy Nigel that magical promotion feeling – but not the summer that will follow it.
Bitter McGovern should know that I’m no racist
There’s a bit of history between myself and John McGovern, Nottingham Forest’s new “ambassador”. About 20 years ago I took over as manager at Plymouth Argyle after he had been working there with Peter Shilton. It seems he has never forgiven me as I’ve not been on his Christmas card list ever since and we’ve had a few run-ins.
So while I was furious to read that he had accused me of racism I wasn’t entirely surprised. After the fiasco that surrounded Forest’s signing of Lee Peltier – as I mentioned in last week’s column, no one at the club knew the regulations – I’d said that Forest needed someone with experience of the English game.
According to McGovern this is racist. It is an awful thing to say. As well as insulting me, this also belittles the victims of genuine racism, which is still far too prevalent.
I can only assume McGovern hopes his ambassadorial role will soon lead to a more substantial job at the club and is seeking to get some brownie points with his chairman.
Great start, Russ – but it’s all downhill from now on!
Congratulations to Russ Wilcox at Scunthorpe. To go 24 games unbeaten from taking over as manager for the first time, breaking a record that has stood since 1889, is incredible. A run like this doesn’t come around often, so when this one finishes it’ll be downhill all the way...