Pearce tackles the big boys head-on

Manchester City's resourceful manager eyes Chelsea with opportunism rather than dread
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The Independent Football

While the club he manages have drawn the Premiership's short straw as Chelsea's first opponents in the new season this weekend, Stuart Pearce is enough of a realist not to let such things get to him. As far as he is concerned, the top four, in whatever order but with Chelsea strongly favoured by him to capture a third straight championship, are as good as settled before a ball is kicked.

What matters, in his opinion, is what happens in the scramble for fifth to 17th places. "It makes for a good Premiership, with the rest of us battling," he claimed at Manchester City's Carrington training ground before going off to finalise his line-up for this afternoon's Stamford Bridge occasion.

"Outside of the top four [Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal] you wouldn't want to draw money out of your bank account and bang it on one club, say Tottenham. They have bought well and are on an upward spiral, but would you put your mortgage on them definitely finishing in the top five? And that goes right the way down the League.

"Where are Charlton going to finish? Could be in the top six, could be the bottom three. This club, Manchester City, are the same, so are Aston Villa, so is everybody outside the top four." Pearce said he read the opinions of one daily paper's football writers about who would be relegated this season. "There were 13 clubs mentioned. I don't think there has ever been that many. That shows, outside the top four, how open the Premiership is this year."

Pearce's realism also extends to the belief that Chelsea are the only Premiership club who cannot be classed as sellers. "They have got a backer who says, 'I'll match you pound for pound, or rouble for rouble'. From our point of view, if you are talking common sense, we are a selling club. We would have to consider the financial aspect if we had an inquiry for any of our players.

"Manchester United are probably the same, they are a selling club in some ways. If someone comes in tomorrow and says, 'I'll give you £200 million for Wayne Rooney', that might be too much for them to refuse. That fella at Chelsea can afford to turn £200m down, but I don't think anyone else can."

With that in mind, Pearce was looking chuffed about what he termed "a shrewd piece of business" which had involved selling his 36-year-old goalkeeper, David James, to Portsmouth, signing as a replacement Sweden's 25-year-old, 40-cap international Andreas Isaksson, and showing a net loss of only £800,000.

In his time as manager, Pearce has also presided over City's biggest windfall, the £23m departure of Shaun Wright-Phillips to Chelsea. "It was a ridiculously good deal for us," he said. But has it turned out to be such a good deal for the player, marginalised in Chelsea's bloated squad of internationals and omitted from England's World Cup plans this summer? "I think it was the right move for him," Pearce insisted.

"Whether or not it works out, time will tell. I think it will. He was the superstar of Man City, loved by the fans, still loved by them. But sometimes you have to dip your toe in the big pool and see how it goes. People criticised Matt Le Tissier for never going to a so-called big club, so are we going to turn round and criticise Shaun for leaving? I wouldn't.

"The timing wasn't ideal for me as a manager, and I think if the decision had been purely down to Shaun he would have stayed. One of his advisers probably said it was too good to turn down, and I wouldn't criticise them for that. Shaun has a Premiership winner's medal, and he wouldn't have had that at Man City last year. I never got one of those, played the game for 20 years and never got anywhere near one. Yet he has got silverware in his first season.

"And you know that if Chelsea don't achieve silverware in any given year, with the financial clout they have they will either throw more money at it or sack the manager and make sure someone else will do the job who can bring trophies."

Pearce revealed he had tried again during the summer to get Wright-Phillips back on loan: "I know how it would spark our fans off because they know what a great player he is." But is selling someone for £23m and then trying to get him back on loan not classed as bizarre?

"That's the nature of football," Pearce replied. "It's a bizarre industry. It's a touch cheeky, but you've got to try, haven't you? Chelsea probably get more loan requests than any other club. People want those players because Chelsea have a big squad and most of those not in the team are internationals. It would be folly for teams like us not to contact them on a regular basis."

While others in the game fume at Chelsea's financial omnipotence, Pearce dismissed it as "a fact of life", although the competitor in him surfaced when he grinned and added: "But I'll tell you what, it doesn't half make you feel good when you come away from Stamford Bridge and you have won."

Are City capable of that this afternoon, then? "I have no idea," he said. "You are never going to break the constraints; some clubs have more money than others, but in some ways that's what makes the game so beautiful, the fact that a lower-League side can beat a Premiership team in the FA Cup. That's why we do it. That's why I do it."