It was not as if Fabio Capello's reputation needed any further burnishing but yesterday Stuart Pearce afforded a glimpse into an England regime that allows its star players precious little room to breach rules. Pearce, Capello's only English coach, said the England squad were on a "two strikes and you're out" system that would be intolerant of any player who stepped out of line in the run up to South Africa next summer.
Pearce is the coach of England Under-21s and an enthusiastic disciple of Capello ever since the Italian's arrival in January last year. Given the differences in their background – a no-nonsense former England left-back and an art-collecting Champions League winning-coach from Italy – they have formed an unlikely alliance through their shared belief in iron discipline for footballers.
Speaking at the League Managers' Association annual conference, Pearce said: "I don't subscribe to the view of how you treat millionaire footballers [differently]. I have a great schoolmaster in Fabio Capello. He treats the new arrivals in the team in the same way as he treats [captain] John Terry. If you step out of line once you will be told. If you do it twice you won't be told again."
The Capello camp will have winced a little at those words and the understanding is that there is no planned purge of players who have been late for dinner twice in the last 21 months. Capello is strict but he also feels that the punishment should take into consideration the nature of the indiscretion, and so far he has been impressed by the level of discipline of the England players.
Pearce's role with the senior England team has largely involved him taking part in the final day's training session or simply joining the squad on matchday once his Under-21 duties are over. Nevertheless, he is closer to Capello, who brought with him a team of four Italian assistants, than any other Englishman connected to the squad. "He encompasses [sic] me in the team and they have been fantastically open with me and involved me with everything," Pearce said.
"I've made an attempt to try to learn Italian which has not been easy with my upbringing. But he has been so open from day one, saying 'Go and get up there'. At this moment in time I've managed less than 150 games so I've got to spend a lot more time in the game. It's about learning your trade before you step into the role, and that doesn't include me at this moment."
Having spent more than two years at Manchester City as a manager, Pearce has been rebuilding his career within the England set-up. His association with Capello has done nothing to harm his career prospects and getting the Under-21s to the European Championships final in the summer has given him further credibility. He remains a long way off being Capello's natural successor, though.
Yesterday, however, Pearce set his stall out as a one of the bright young hopes of English coaching with an attack on what he said was the bad attitude among some young home players. A footballer who came to the professional game via the non-league game, he has strong views on young players.
Pearce said: "I had to pull one or two [of the Under-21s] aside at the last get-together to say I want to see your talent every day on the pitch, don't just keep it to yourself. If they then do it – great – if not, someone else will take their place. They are representing their country. If I don't tell them I am doing them a disservice.
"As a manager one thing you find soul-destroying is seeing real talent wasted. Sometimes you say that is a product of society, parenting, everything, but you know there is someone else with less talent who will roll their sleeves up and come through. Sheer effort gets you there eventually. Mental toughness will drive players to the top.
"Maybe it is in their breeding, they inherit it from their parents, or maybe the environment they live in. Some players have an arrogance; some it will bring them crashing down, in others it will take them to the very top. You see it on the pitch, they might be unassuming off it but they know what they are good at on it and do it more regularly than others."
It was Pearce who decided that Theo Walcott should play for the Under-21s last summer against the wishes of the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, who felt that it was pointless for the 20-year-old to be demoted from the senior team. Yesterday, the Under-21s coach stood by that decision and hinted that he might even call up Walcott again should the player find himself left out by Capello.
Pearce said: "Two years ago I said: 'This boy has to play every game for the Under-21s. If he is not playing at Arsenal he has to play 90 minutes of football, nine or 10 times a season for the Under-21s even if his form is a bit iffy."
Having played a role in the run to the World Cup semi-finals in 1990, Pearce said that England still have lessons to learn ahead of next summer's tournament. "I think 'game-management' is the one thing we are really naïve on," he said. "For example when you are in a cul-de-sac near the corner flag what are you looking to achieve: get a corner out of it, kill the game, slow the game?
"We play our club football at a very high tempo and when we go to major tournaments we do the same thing and then all of sudden we run out of gas after four or five games."
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