Is Stuart Pearce a managerial flop?

Nottingham Forest supporters currently seem split on whether or not to continue supporting under-fire manager Stuart Pearce.

By Stuart Levy
Tuesday, 13th January 2015, 11:45 am
Nottingham Forest's manager Stuart Pearce on the touchline.
Nottingham Forest's manager Stuart Pearce on the touchline.

Those arguing for stability point to Pearce’s legendary status as a player at the club meaning that he should deserve more of a chance that his predecessors, whilst fans hoping for a change do so because they feel Pearce is a failed manager with a poor track record.

But was Pearce really such a flop in his first permanent managerial role, at Manchester City?

Stuart Pearce had a bright start to his time at Manchester City. Appointed, initially as a caretaker manager after the sacking of Kevin Keegan, Pearce lost his first game in charge but then led the club on an eight-game unbeaten run to conclude the 2004/05 season.

In fact, had they won rather than drew their final game of that season, they would have qualified for the UEFA Cup.

That draw in May 2005 was against Middlesbrough, who were then managed by the man who Pearce will face this weekend, Steve McClaren.

Boro went on to reach the UEFA Cup final the following season, an achievement which earned McClaren his crack at the England manager’s job.

Pearce, who was also in contention to succeed SvenGoran Eriksson, had to settle for a role as manager of the U21s.

Nottingham Forest manager Stuart Pearce applauds the home fans during a pre-season friendly at The City Ground.

Had City won that game, it is obviously far too simplistic to state that they would have had a similar run in Europe and that Pearce would have got the England job ahead of McClaren, but it does highlight how fine the margins are between success and failure in football.

That game is also remembered for Pearce famously pushing goalkeeper David James up front for the last few minutes, a move which, had it led to a winner for City, would have seen Pearce lauded as a genius.

Despite missing out on Europe, Pearce was still handed the managerial role on a full-time basis by City and led them to an impressive start to the following season, winning the Premier League manager of the month award for August.

This came after a summer in which star winger Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose contribution the previous season had earned him a place in the PFA Team of the Year as well as regular England appearances, had been sold for £21m with very little of that money being made available to Pearce to strengthen his squad. City reached the FA Cup quarter-final that season,and a final league position of 15th doesn’t tell the full story.

Nottingham Forest manager Stuart Pearce during the Sky Bet Championship match at the DW Stadium, Wigan.

It was a run of nine defeats in the final 10 games of the season that led to a plummet down the table. They finished nine points clear of the bottom three and were never in a relegation battle.

It is therefore Pearce’s second and final full season in charge of City that provides most of the evidence for his supposed failure at the club.

The City team that season were characterised by poor discipline and a frightening lack of goals.

Midfielders Joey Barton and Ousmane Dabo were involved in a training ground fight, whilst on the field left-back Ben Thatcher was given an eight-match ban for intentionally elbowing and knocking unconscious an opponent.

These incidents came amongst a backdrop of the team only scoring 10 goals at home for the entire campaign, a record low for a top flight club.

In addition to this, the money Pearce was given to spend at a club whose current spending under the current owners must have felt like light-years away was squandered.

Andreas Isaksson was a poor replacement in goal for James, Italian international striker Bernardo Corradi only contributed three league goals and a young Algerian winger by the name of Djamel Abdoun failed to make a single league appearance.

It is therefore quite difficult to call Pearce’s time as Manchester City manager a success.

The highpoint might arguably have been the run at the end of the first season; perhaps City handed him the permanent job too hastily and he may have been better suited to spending a couple more seasons as an assistant.

Like his time in the North West, Pearce enjoyed a successful start to his Forest managerial career this season before a dramatic loss of form.

Irrespective of this, it would be too hasty to conclude that Forest should sack Pearce just because of the disappointing end to his tenure at City.

The lack of discipline that reared its head has been nowhere to be seen for Forest, his record in the transfer market has been more hit than miss and he still seems totally committed to the cause (he was combining his role at City with the England U21 job for the last few months of his reign).

Whether his time at the City Ground is doomed to failure or is merely experiencing a blip, football is not a game where what happened in the past should cloud future judgement.