Give Nigel Pearson the credit he deserves

Mike Holden by Mike Holden / 03 August 2016, 12:18

Former Leicester City boss Nigel Pearson takes charge of his first competitive Derby County match on Saturday when his troops battle Brighton. Mike Holden (@Ratings_Mike) takes a look at the manager who played a key role in building the foundations for Leicester's Premier League title succes.

Nigel Pearson hasn’t been given the credit he deserves for his part in the Leicester City fairytale. The man who moulded that immortal team in the Championship, infusing the inner steel that was so evident as they held their nerve during the run-in last March and April, is now little more than a footnote in one of the greatest sporting successes of all time.

Yet the transition from newly-promoted makeweights into Premier League contenders quite patently started under his watch. Bottom of the table, seven points adrift of safety in the Spring of 2015, something clicked and the Foxes turbocharged their way to safety with seven wins in the last nine matches. When they returned to action three months later, self-belief was abundant.

That surge to survival was as remarkable as any nine-game stretch under Claudio Ranieiri but most national media journalists charted the origins of Leicester’s rise and prefer to credit Richard the Third. When they think of Pearson, they’d rather channel their inner Clinton Baptiste, concluding somewhat heartlessly: “I’m getting the word… ostrich.”

But therein lies a crucial lesson about media persona. In the Football League, Pearson is well-liked and respected, his grumpy demeanour and impatience with impertinent questions from reporters regarded as endearing. But when he turned up in the Premier League with that same attitude, the national hacks took umbrage, actively seeking to push his buttons and irritate him.

However, it would be wrong to say Pearson hasn’t benefited from the Leicester miracle. As their extraordinary title charge unfolded, it became increasingly apparent that the 52-year-old would be wise to prolong his sabbatical. Championship clubs already had a high opinion of him but suddenly he was at the top of every shortlist, including some that hadn’t been drawn up yet.

Pearson virtually guarantees a promotion push to almost any team at this level but so would other managers, some of whom have a bit more charisma. But selling the dream of building a team that isn’t just promoted but could also ’do a Leicester’ is something very different altogether. It doesn’t necessarily get him a better club, but it certainly gets him a bigger queue and a better contract.

And so Pearson returns to the dugout, well-rested and itching to go again at Derby, a fitting location because no team in the Championship needs that inner steel that Leicester now possess more than their east Midlands rivals. It’s been the only thing standing between them and the Premier League since Bobby Zamora’s cruel intervention at Wembley a little over two years ago.

The following season, the Rams snatched eighth spot from the jaws of the title, winning just two of their final 13 matches, a collapse that plagued them mentally throughout the course of last season. Having ditched Steve McClaren, they lost faith in Paul Clement, enabling Darren Wassall to raise hopes briefly, only to dash them spectacularly in a 3-0 first-leg play-off defeat to Hull.

With Pearson on board, they shouldn’t need to invest any more in the squad, the raw materials to operate at nearly two points per game are already in place. The ominous presence of Rafa Benitez and Newcastle gives the impression that only one automatic spot will be up for grabs but you have to fancy the Rams to give as good as they get among the other contenders.

And if they have to settle for the play-offs again, you can rest assured they will hold their nerve much better.

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