By the time Stuart Pearce stepped out for his first official engagement as England manager yesterday, the only outward part of him that was still "Psycho" from his playing days was the haircut: a surprise switch back to the tried and trusted side-parting of yesteryear.
As for the rest of it, this was Pearce the England manager – or at least Pearce the caretaker England manager – who had been schooled by Fabio Capello over the last four years, and he began his press conference yesterday with an announcement of his own. He wanted to thank Capello and his staff "for the education that I've received" and then it was on with the show.
Of course, "Psycho" is never too far from the surface. Certainly Capello never managed to shoehorn references to the 1966 World Cup, Afghanistan and Euro '96 into one press briefing but then his temporary successor is a very different proposition. Pearce has been through the modern coaching education but his background is in English football, from non-league to the Premier League and naturally that informs a lot of what he believes.
In the course of a lunchtime yesterday he made a strong pitch that he could manage England at Euro 2012 if the Football Association saw fit to entrust him with the job. He based it upon the argument that he has been to three European Championships as an Under-21s coach and, as a result, has the experience of tournament football that no other candidate possesses.
It was an interesting point for a man who looks every inch a caretaker England manager and no more. Yesterday was the occasion when Pearce rode to the rescue of the FA and promised to do whatever was needed to hold the fort while the four men of the Club England board go about trying to appoint the new man. Two of those four were in the room listening to Pearce's every word.
The FA has been good for Pearce, too. It has made him its pet project, sustaining a career that might have foundered after his departure from Manchester City in 2007, leaving him in charge of the Under-21s and then conferring on that job a greater importance than it has ever had. Not to mention inserting him into Capello's staff with the senior team for match-days and tournaments.
Despite the FA's close relationship with its loyal company man, one gets the impression that leaving Pearce in charge for Euro 2012 this summer is very much the last option on the table and that he will be manager on Wednesday and then return to the Under-21s.
Even having reached the Under-21s European Championship final in 2009, he has not got close to making an overwhelming case that he could do a job of such magnitude. When Pearce made clear that he would not consider putting himself forward for the job full-time, it probably told you everything you needed to know.
"I don't sit here and pretend I've got the answers to all the ills in football," Pearce said. "I'm learning. I'm a pretty lightly-raced coach, if you like. I retired as a player when I was 40 and in some ways that held my coaching back. There's a lot of people a lot younger than me with a lot more games under their belt both at international and club level. I've picked a team on about 160 occasions at club and country level. The one thing I have got is a lot of tournament experience."
Fair enough, but there have been worrying signs of immaturity in his approach to coaching in the recent past, not least when he clenched a fist and stepped forward to confront the Germany full-back Sebastian Boenisch in the Under-21s Euro 2009 final. Nevertheless, on what was potentially a sticky wicket yesterday, Pearce batted manfully for his employer.
He discussed everything from his apology to Paul Ince in 1994 and his own feelings of inadequacy at the 1990 World Cup finals to why he thought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should stay in the Under-21s. There was a touch of the modern Uefa coachspeak about his description of the FA as a "federation" and when he posited that "talk and delivery is quite a different module".
"I don't think this [friendly against the Netherlands] will be a defining moment, if I'm honest," he said. "I've a plan for myself, which is a continual slow process of education. Boom and bust won't come about. I took the Under-21s to the final against Germany for the first time in 25 years. I was lauded the day before the game and vilified after a 4-0 defeat. But in my mind it was another step in my education which continually improves me as a man and as a coach."
That passing mention to being "vilified" was a hint towards Pearce's attitude towards the press. In his autobiography, Psycho, first published 12 years ago, he recalls his view of the newspapers during his playing days. "I shut off from the press and, to be honest, it suited me," he said, although he said he did maintain a relationship with one reporter in the Midlands.
For better or for worse, the non-engagement is not an option over the next five days – and he certainly had no problems with it yesterday. Convincing the FA that he is the man to lead the team into the European Championships, if necessary, might be a little trickier.
To play the Netherlands at Wembley on Wednesday:
Goalkeepers S Carson (Bursaspor) Age: 26 Caps: 4, J Hart (Man City) 24/16, R Green (West Ham) 32/11.
Defenders G Cahill (Chelsea) 26/7, A Cole (Chelsea) 31/93, L Baines (Everton) 27/6, G Johnson (Liverpool) 27/35, P Jones (Man Utd) 20/3, M Richards (Man City) 23/12, C Smalling (Man Utd) 22/2, K Walker (Tottenham) 21/2
Midfielders G Barry (Man City) 31/51, T Cleverley (Man Utd) 22/0, S Downing (Liverpool) 27/32, A Johnson (Man City) 24/9, S Gerrard (Liverpool) 31/89, J Milner (Man City) 26/23, S Parker (Tottenham) 31/10, A Young (Man Utd) 26/18, T Walcott (Arsenal) 22/21
Strikers D Bent (Aston Villa) 28/12, F Campbell (Sunderland) 24/0, D Sturridge (Chelsea) 22/1, W Rooney (Man Utd) 26/73, D Welbeck (Man Utd) 21/3.
- More about:
- Fabio Capello