Leaving aside the short period in charge of The Reds in 1996/97, his first real managerial job was taking over a Manchester City side drifting in mid-table. Pearce made a promising start, revitalising their 2005/06 season, but the club levelled off in mid table, subsequently finishing 15th and 14th.
Not the powerhouse they are today, this was no disastrous tenure at City, however a large proportion of their fans are surprisingly hostile towards Pearce. Aside from suggesting that he isn’t a very nice person and questioning his intelligence, complaints centred on negative tactics and boring football.
It is certainly true that City struggled to score goals under Pearce – they earned the record for the least home goals scored in The Premier League, concentrating on defending but lacking creativity.
It was perhaps a case of 'needs must.' One fan told me “he had the bottle to play negative football to keep us up.” Pearce himself has stated his only remit was to keep them in the division, and points out he made a £13,000,000 profit in the transfer market during that period.
This argument does not mollify the City fans however, who look back upon Pearce’s football with dread. I see him as Manchester City’s Steve Cotterill. Like Cotterill at Forest, he did a mostly unappreciated job which achieved it’s aim of keeping them in the division – ensuring the club remained attractive to the foreign investors. Where would either club be now if they had failed?
Pearce’s next job was as coach of the England Under-21 side, and generally his record during this period was good, averaging the equivalent of 2 points per game and losing only five times.
However, the failure to win a trophy proved significant, and his tenure was brought to an end after a disappointing tournament in Israel 2013, although dissatisfaction with Pearce’s tactics had been rumbled about long before his eventual demise.
In a trend that continues to this day, both the on-line and print press appear to have stereotyped Pearce, flavouring their criticism on a caricature influenced by his “unforgiving style of play”. He is ‘Psycho’ – an “uncompromising”, “tough-tackling” defender, determined and “combative”, and while useful in his day, his critics hint that he is the kind of character that has been holding English football back.
Pearce, the player, was “the epitome of all that was wrong with our national players - the prioritisation of physical attributes over technique, of power over intelligence.” This outrageous comment – the author has obviously never seen him play – sums up how critics like to paint Pearce, he was just a physical force with no finesse or brains – so if he was like that as a player (he wasn’t) he’s probably still a bit simple as a manager.
England under Pearce – especially towards the end – were concentrating heavily on defending and being difficult to beat, leading to accusations of Pearce being “a throwback to the dark ages,” with “old fashioned tactics” and “prehistoric philosophies” – all clever, vogue ways of saying he is too conservative without having to look into it under any great detail.
There is certainly room for criticism in this regard – so long as it has substance. When struggling, it was apparent Pearce's Under 21's failed to maintain possession in the opposition half and found it difficult to create against cautious teams.
But this was not down to old-fashioned tactics – Pearce tended to favour a modern 4-2-3-1 system (see right, all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged when clicked) reminiscent of that used by such tactical thinkers as Rafael Benitez and Fabio Capello, both of whom appear to have influenced Pearce's thinking.
The problem Pearce sometimes faced in using this system, is that the players at his disposal were arguably not up to implementing it against sides inclined to keep the ball. The forwards became isolated as the midfield struggled to advance the ball, making the team appear short creativity.
Pearce's last tournament – Israel 2013 – was won by a Spanish side crammed with imaginative and technical players, who were also much further along in their development than the English team. They brushed aside opponents while England were just another average team.
But a closer look at the two team's playing staff betrays the gulf in class. The Spanish side that started the final had already made well over 500 top flight appearances between them (see left, the players' top flight appearances is stated in yellow, the English team are the starters for their last game, against Israel), where their English counterparts were comparatively inexperienced.
I would also suggest that if Pearce had the likes of Isco, Morata and Tello playing up front, all of whom have since established themselves in the first teams of either Real Madrid or Barcelona, he could have afforded to be a little more adventurous in going forward.
It is disappointing to be going out of tournaments to the likes of Israel and Czech Republic, but these failures were largely down to the inexperience and inconsistency of the players available, rather than outdated tactics.
If anything, Pearce was at fault for trying to play too much like our more technical rivals rather than sticking to what we're good at. English players often do not get enough top-level experience to be comfortable with this kind of football, and those that do soon become unavailable to the Under 21 side, or do not want to play. Unfamiliar players, not quite good enough for the system - yes. Outdated, thoughtless tactics? No.
But we should also note that using his methods, the Under 21's qualified for every tournament under Pearce’s tenure (something none of Spain, Germany or Holland could do) and had a win-ratio of 56.1%.
I think a lot of this idea about Pearce – the assumption that he is quite simple and therefore, as Henry Winter puts it, “is no great tactician,” comes from his image. He is seen as the embodiment of patriotism, of blood and sweat, of passion. This is what critics know of him, and they base their stereotype upon this. It’s just not trendy to be patriotic in modern, sophisticated Britain. Patriotism is old-fashioned, outdated: for the simple-minded.
When not making insinuations of racism, they often focused on their stereotyped caricature of ‘Psycho’ – they were shocked when he gave a press conference and could actually string a few words together and portrayed him as if the F.A. had shaved their favourite pet monkey, dressed it in a suit and coached it on what to say.
“He is not called Psycho for nothing,” one journalist cried. He was dismissed as “resembling a relic of the past” – it was written that Pearce’s patriotism and enthusiasm was admirable, but football had moved on. Sophisticated managers like Arsene Wenger had evolved the game, it was more professional now. Things were much simpler in Pearce’s day.
There have certainly been low points – the Olympics team should have done much better in reality, despite the absence of key players. Again, the accusation was that Team GB lacked creativity.
This accusation of negativity is too consistent to be without cause – Manchester City, England Under-21's and Team GB were all conservative under Pearce. He is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about defending, and builds his teams from the back, but older readers will remember another Forest team based on a solid defence which didn’t do too badly.
Talk of him being stuck in the past is certainly wide of the mark. I'll look in considerable detail at the kind of tactics Pearce has been employing in my next article, but his preferred style of play is based on modern tactical thinking, and the defending in particular is more continental than traditional British.
Psycho has had his share of critics wherever he's managed; before researching this article I assumed his appointment purely a move to appease the fans – but Pearce's record tends to point to him being a good candidate at this level in his own right; he has lost only 6 out of his last 47 games as manager, with a win ratio of 53%.
They say never go back, and he's had a bumpy ride so far in his young managerial career, but Pearce may just be the man to bring the big time back to The City Ground.
Thanks for reading. COYR!
COMING SOON - Psycho - the tactics and system he will use.
COMING SOON - Psycho - the tactics and system he will use.