Football commentator and author John Anderson assesses whether Stuart Pearce has the qualities needed to lead England into a major tournament, if the call comes.
Stand-in England coach Stuart Pearce has put himself forward to lead the nation at Euro 2012 if Harry Redknapp doesn’t want the job. The current Spurs boss remains the hot favourite to succeed Fabio Capello, but Pearce will be in charge when England face Holland at Wembley next Wednesday.
His squad for the friendly against the World Cup runners up contains two uncapped players in Frazier Campbell and Tom Cleverley, but the experienced Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard have been left out, while John Terry is injured.
Whether Pearce’s tenure comprises a single match or more, he will certainly go down in history as the only England manager ever to have appeared on the cover of a live album by punk rock second raters The Lurkers.
As a teenager growing up in west London in the late 1970s, Pearce combined a career as a trainee electrician (rumour has it he rewired Brian Clough’s house when they were together at Nottingham Forest) with playing non-league football for Wealdstone and pogoing in the moshpit at gigs by the likes of Stiff Little Fingers and the Stranglers, both of whom he follows to this day.
It’s no surprise then that, taking his cue from an early single by the latter, the now nearly 50 year old has decided that “something better change” in the England camp, after the stifling caution that characterised his predecessor. Six of the 25 strong squad were regular starters when Pearce led the Under 21s in the European Championships last summer and 16 are in single figures when it comes to international starts.
Big questions persist about Pearce’s suitability as a tactician, man manager and figurehead. John Anderson
With the 33 year olds Ferdinand and Lampard rested, it is the first ever England squad to be entirely made up of players born in the 1980s or later (Kyle Walker and Danny Welbeck were both born in 1990).But does this qualify the tattooed former pogoer as a renaissance man?
Well, just as the “three chords and a prayer” minimalism of the early punk bands gave way to the more cerebral nuances of groups like Joy Division, The Fall and Magazine, Pearce is clearly hoping to be seen as a new wave thinker when it comes to England.
A teetotaller who celebrates wins with nothing more incendiary than a cappuccino, he repeatedly refers to the Football Association as “the federation” which, although it sounds like the interplanetary task force from a sci-fi movie, is in keeping with a more continental description of the custodians of the national game.
Read more: What went wrong for Fabio Capello?
In his first interview since taking over as caretaker boss, Pearce spoke about the need for cross-fertilisation between the senior and Under-21 squads, pointing out that the likes of France and Spain had both won junior tournaments before landing World Cups and European Championships.
His vision seems to extend beyond the summer and into a brave new era with the St George’s Park centre of excellence as the epicentre of a multi platform England set up encompassing all age groups from schoolboys to seniors.
Although he has thrown his hat into the ring for Euro 2012 one senses that, with Redknapp qualifying for his bus pass just two days after the Holland match, Pearce’s eyes are focused less on becoming the next England manager than becoming the one after next.
But, despite his best attempts to inhabit the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the nagging doubt remains that Pearce may still belong to the less cerebral school of soccer management. While his old fashioned sleeves rolled up qualities of passion and patriotism cannot be faulted, his track record in the dug-out certainly can.
His first and only permanent club job at Manchester City saw early promise give way to a spell of dismal form and the sack within two years, during which time he was appointed Under 21 boss.
In that guise he took England to the final of the 2009 European Championship (where they were humbled 4-0 by Germany) but failed to negotiate the group stage two years later, with a misfiring midfield in which he bafflingly persisted with the out of form Michael Mancienne while failing to coax the best out of the highly rated Jordan Henderson and Jack Rodwell.
Were such frailties to be repeated at senior level, the ensuing pressure from media and public would be magnified a thousand fold, and Pearce has never been particularly comfortable in the spotlight. As a player he was one of the less approachable characters, withdrawn and insular.
Post match interview requests would invariably be met with a shrug, a downward stare and a muttered “I’d rather not”. Even attempts to divert questioning into areas such as his musical tastes would be met with a sullen sentence at best.
Such escape routes are not available to the England manager whose profile is such that interrogators feel they have the right to try and bore deep into the very fibre of his soul.
And so big questions persist about Pearce’s suitability as a tactician, man manager and figurehead. His beloved Stranglers scored a minor hit with a song called Don’t Bring Harry. But, in truth, Harry can’t come soon enough.
You can follow John Anderson on Twitter via @GreatFaceRadio