GB Football Team: Stuart Pearce?

The circus that is the England national side came to town last week, led by ringmaster Stuart Pearce, the unfortunate man charged with the thankless task of stopping Wayne Rooney putting his head in a lions mouth, or something like that.

Since the 3-2 defeat by the Netherlands, Pearce has been sidelined somewhat, forced out to manage the coconut shy with most punters paying their money to pelt a handful of wooden balls at his stylish new side-parting.

The gist of that metaphor is that Pearce has been hit by a barrage of criticism since taking charge of England in a caretaker capacity last week. The criticisms levelled at him have, by and large, been accurate and fair. However, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Pearce in the Wembley dug-out as he leads the Team GB men’s side this summer at London 2012.

I am one of those detractors, and on the basis that the Games will be taking place within my locale, and there is a British football team competing for the first time in my living memory, I do care who leads the side. As a whole, I want Team GB to well in the final medals table and the football side is no exception. Is Pearce the best man for the job? No.

There is absolutely no doubting Pearce’s fierce patriotism; I’m a fierce patriot myself, and on that level at least I can absolutely identify with him. He was clearly walking an inch taller last week in the lead up to his bow as England manager, and there was a rightful sense of pride as he reminded the assembled press that he was England manager, England U21 manager and Team GB manager – quite a feat, and one that at the very least suggests he is incredibly well thought of within the corridors of power at Wembley.

Unfortunately, aside from his undying passion for the country, Pearce is woefully lacking in the requisite qualifications to lead Team GB. His managerial experience in minimal first and foremost. His record at Manchester City was disastrous. The initial high of nearly reaching the then UEFA Cup in his caretaker period was quickly forgotten with the side teetering toward relegation by the end of the 2006/07 season.

For me at least, the single moment that sums up Stuart Pearce’s managerial credentials was the final game of the 2004/05 season. With City chasing that European spot and drawing 1-1 with Middlesbrough, Pearce threw on substitute goalkeeper, Nicky Weaver to allow regular number one David James a striking berth. Left on the bench, an unused substitute, was striker, Jon Macken – by no means prolific but at the very least an outfield player.

If that is not a tactical dinosaur, I don’t know what is.

Of course, Pearce has been England U21 manager now for just over five years, guiding England’s young lions to a semi-final and a final of two UEFA European U21 Championships. You can’t knock the achievement of reaching the latter stages at two tournaments, however the comprehensive unpicking of his side by their German counterparts in 2009 was indicative of a man whose skill set fails to go beyond commitment and passion.

Granted the German side contained Manuel Neuer, Benedict Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil – all now senior internationals, but it was a dismal showing from Pearce’s charges who relied on the quintessentially English long-ball. Let’s not forget either that England’s starting XI included Micah Richards, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and James Milner.

The London 2012 Games are important for the players selected as the majority will be youthful; they will provide a real opportunity for the young players involved to get tournament experience, under heavy scrutiny, including games at Wembley. You only need to compare the respective fortune of the aforementioned players on the international scene and the respective nations to realize that something is not working in our international set-up.

My worry is that Pearce is the questionable cog in the system.

Tom Bodell

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to download from Amazon and Smashwords, documenting high-level football and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.