It seems safe to say that Jose Mourinho has never had a tip-off from a mate in Sheffield about a player at Stocksbridge Park Steels. But today at Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea manager will come up against a man who has – Leicester City’s Nigel Pearson, who went on to sign that same player, Jamie Vardy, from Conference side Fleetwood.
“I live in Sheffield and somebody told me about him through a friend of mine,” recalled Pearson this week, evoking a rather different world from the one Mourinho inhabits. “He fully deserves the opportunity to play in the Premier League.”
The same might be said of Pearson, 51 two days ago, who – apart from two games as caretaker at Newcastle United – has waited until now for the chance to manage in the top flight. Perhaps this is why, 16 years after his first management job at Carlisle United, he has no complaints about the tough start Leicester have been handed: an opening fixture against Everton followed by away dates at Chelsea and Arsenal.
“I spoke to the players and they were all really looking forward to it,” Pearson said. “That for me is the key thing. The players saw [the fixtures] and were not fazed.”
“Not fazed” could be Pearson’s personal mantra. Unlike the soundbite-spilling Mourinho, the one-time Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough centre-back can seem dour as he sidesteps clichés in his press briefings, though there was something refreshing on Thursday in his wariness about such fixtures “becoming an occasion rather than a game” for last season’s Championship winners.
Leicester lack Premier League knowhow. They started with just four players against Everton who had appeared in the division before. Of himself, Pearson says he is “pleased with the variety of experiences I have had”. The former Southampton and Hull City manager, now in his second spell at Leicester, said: “I have worked in all four domestic leagues, I played in non-league football, I have worked at national level [as England Under-21 assistant manager] and assisted good managers. I am looking forward to working in the Premier League but I will only enjoy it if I feel we are maximising what we’ve got and striving to push on.”
At Leicester – whose Thai owners have invested more than £160m in four years – pushing on seems a realistic prospect. “We don’t have debts with regards to the ground now,” Pearson added. “We have a very solid foundation, the [owners] have invested sensibly in the last two or three years in improving the squad. We do feel we have quite a bit of potential within the squad.”
Pearson broke the club’s transfer record this summer with the £8m purchase from Brighton of striker Leonardo Ulloa, a scoring debutant in the 2-2 draw with Everton, and is now pursuing a deal for Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, a free agent after leaving Internazionale.
There have also been new contracts for 10 players, Vardy signing this week to follow the lead of such key figures as goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, defender Liam Moore and striker David Nugent.