Last chance saloon for Pearce as Team GB project threatens to falter

The former Manchester City boss heads into Sunday evening's fixture against UAE knowing a victory is needed to keep alive qualification hopes and preserve his fragile reputation
By Jay Jaffa

There is an age old fable that tells of Stuart Pearce's start in management. In his first match as caretaker boss at Nottingham Forest he had to be reminded by his wife that he had not named goalkeeper Mark Crossley in his starting XI.

Now, no-one can deny Pearce has come a long way since then, and indeed, he sparked life into a Forest side left adrift by Frank Clark, even if they were to ultimately face relegation from the Premier League.

And although Pearce has presided over greater managerial positions than the difficult circumstances presented to him at the City Ground, the unerring feeling is that he has never achieved anything significant from the dugout.

It is hard to begrudge Pearce though. His application towards management has been admirable and he has been recognised and awarded key positions in the national setup. Following a two-year stint as Manchester City manager, in which he began strongly before fading, Pearce accepted the FA's offer to manage the Under-21s.

Though Pearce guided the young lions to third place in the 2007 European Under-21 Championships and runners-up two years later, an air of dissatisfaction has lingered.

The style of play he has employed over the years would be the fairest explanation for the malevolence aimed his way. A dour style that was all too prominent for the Under-21s was borne at the City of Manchester Stadium and led to his dismissal from his first official position of management.


A paltry 29 goals were netted in the Premier League in his final year, including a woeful 10 scored in front of the home fans that secured a 14th-place finish and in turn his dismissal.

Ever a man of determination, Pearce jumped at the chance to take on the Under-21 job – in many ways a risk-free move. But with the national team fairing so poorly, not qualifying for Euro 2008 and flopping at the World Cup in 2010, he was expected to provide hope for a more promising future.

As was the case at City, initially the signs were good, but the embarrassing group stage exit at the European Championships in 2011 - including a late capitulation to Czech Republic (similar in nature to the late goal conceded by Team GB against Senegal at Old Trafford last Thursday) put paid to a lot of the good he had done in previous years.

Plenty was expected of England in Denmark last summer and though a number of his squad have graduated to the first team - Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker the most notable examples - there is a sense of missed opportunity when running the rule over that tournament.

In February of this year, Pearce was asked by the FA to take charge of England's friendly with the Netherlands following the surprise resignation of Fabio Capello. He accepted the role of caretaker and admirably took the stage in front of the world's media, diplomatically answering all that was thrown his way - surely an attribute David Bernstein considered when searching for a stop-gap to fill the Capello void.

And though the 3-2 defeat to the Dutch at Wembley felt like a courageous loss at the time, in hindsight, England were defeated at home by a team that could only sheepishly point to Ireland at Euro 2012 and say 'they were worse than us.'

Roll forward to the present day and Pearce is one official game into his tenure as Team GB boss. As far as starts go (and if you trace it back a few months) it has not been good. A PR gaffe to not include David Beckham in his squad could just about be forgiven, the 2-0 defeat to favourites to Brazil went not without criticism but the 1-1 draw with a robust, but ultimately poor, Senegal side in their Olympic opener should provide some food for thought.

Though Pearce currently presides over Team GB and has the Under-21 job to return to, he was overlooked for the national team hotseat in favour of Roy Hodgson, and even the assistant manager's role for Ray Lewington. After this summer, his future looks uncertain and though only 50-years-old, it is difficult to find a place for him in club management – certainly not at the top level.

Pearce has always felt like a safe pair of hands. There can't be many fully fledged managers to have held three separate caretaker roles in just 12 years of management. He speaks well, refuses to criticise officials – the aftermath of the Battle of Old Trafford would have been a prime opportunity – and can do an unspectacular, if dependable job.

But with Team GB's must-win game against the UAE approaching, Pearce could do worse than find his selfish side. Because if he doesn't get this team to the Olympic knockout rounds, it will be another blot on his managerial copybook and quite possibly put an end to a career that never quite got going.

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