The Nick Townsend Column: Pearce's journey from Psycho to philosopher prince of managers

Click to follow
The Independent Football

To recall the scenario: his team had been defeated 1-0, rather unluckily, it must be stressed. They had conceded two penalties: one "won" by Henry but, on balance, correctly awarded; the other, a soft fall by Dennis Bergkamp, decidedly iffy. The visitors had appeared to have equalised with a well-constructed headed effort from Darius Vassell, only for it to be ruled out as offside. Under the "must see daylight" guidelines it was a dubious verdict.

So, when the Manchester City manager, Stuart Pearce, emerged, was there a hint of pique? Did he quote from the Collective Wisdom of Vanquished Managers (reprinted annually, but little changed since the football "boss" first became so termed and moved from the stand to the dug-out, discarding most of his dignity as he did so)?

You will be familiar with that well-thumbed volume. It contains such gems as: "Decisions like that can cost managers their jobs"; "At the end of the season, that could mean the difference between safety and relegation"; or my favourite (already trademarked by Neil Warnock): "When the ref sees that again tonight he'll be embarrassed".

No. It was not so much "Psycho" we beheld, but Stuart Pearce, philosopher. "My boys were a touch disappointed, but we'll go with the ref as he made an honest decision" (the first penalty). "I'm told by someone I respect that it was offside (Vassell's "goal"). The linesman got it spot-on." And as for accusations that the Henry-Pires penalty try-on was taking the proverbial out of his players, he dismissed that. "When you try something that's not the norm in football, it can be perceived like that," he said. "It was a clever training-ground ploy."

It was like inhaling a blast of fresh air in a smoke-filled bar. Pearce is seriously undermining his fellow members of the Bosses' Union, though such magnanimity, it could be claimed, comes a little easier when you have guided City from Kevin Keegan's desert of uncertainty to lusher pastures near the summit of the Premiership.

It can be a bit scary, scrutinising this character, who kicks every ball like some demented marionette on the touchline, but who after the game adopts an almost military bearing in his obsession with correctness. One day, perhaps, he will be goaded in one unguarded moment to an assault on management's perennial enemy, though you would wager against it. There are those who would dismiss him as simply Cloughie's clone - the late manager of Nottingham Forest, for whom Pearce was a key performer, thoroughly disapproved of verbal attacks on officials.

Pearce simply argues that all condemnation of a referee achieves is a grudge against that team in the mind of the official, though the counter-argument is that the whistlers may subconsciously attempt to please the "ranting" classes in management.

Whatever the merits of that discussion, Pearce, like his mentor, is steadily enhancing his reputation. City, who meet Aston Villa at home tomorrow night, may not contain the Premiership's most gifted artists, though they have potency around goal. That, allied to a resolute rearguard, bodes well. Most importantly, like the man who has moulded them, this City team will not be found shirking.

Pearce continues to scoff at reminders that the England job may become vacant in the next year, and that the FA may just be seeking a candidate blessed with stature as a former player, a passion for his country and, thus far, achievement on a limited budget. It is too early, of course. He is barely out of managerial nappies.

But the FA would be wise to bring him on board. He evidently thinks profoundly about the game, which manifests itself, among other things, in his attitude to referees. He appears to engender respect from his players. And not, as the former Forest player Ian Woan suggested when asked about that club's revival when Pearce was briefly in charge in 1997, because "we're frightened of getting beaten up by the manager".

The O'Driscoll tackle a wound in need of care

Sorry is still the hardest word for some. And at times it hardly appears worth the effort. Syd Millar, the chairman of rugby union's international governing body, on behalf of "the entire rugby community", has apolo-gised to Brian O'Driscoll for the tackle in Christchurch by the All Blacks' captain, Tana Umaga, and hooker Keven Mealamu which could have incapacitated the Lions captain for life - or worse. That apology has arrived four months too late, and from the wrong source, principally because the citing commis-sioner, Willem Venter, per-versely saw nothing untoward. But why should the judges be apologising for the sins of the accused anyway? Millar's words, and the confirmation that in future such actions will result in suspension for three to six months (grossly inadequate) will provide but a loose-fitting bandage on an open wound. The All Blacks arrived in Britain on Friday, with their coach, Graham Henry, claiming the game "should move on". It won't, and it shouldn't, while he and his team remain in denial.

Shearer adds indignity to his injury

Fine standard-bearer for England, Newcastle and Blackburn though he has been over the years, it ill behoves Alan Shearer, of all people, to go whining to the referee, Mark Halsey, over the elbow in the face he received from Grimsby's Justin Whittle during Wednesday night's Carling Cup tie. Neither were the observations from a player who has become something of a serial moaner on the pitch welcome. Claims that "it would have been easy for me to go out there and stick one on him" were the words of a blustering youth, not a 35-year-old who is one of the game's supposed statesmen. The challenge was not the most edifying sight, but then neither has been the spectacle of his boots, elbows and arms (all, of course, unwittingly) damaging other players' features over the years. He got away with a split lip. Time for him to button it?

Comments