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Friday, 11 November 2011

Leicester City – Nigel Pearson, return of the king or a ghost that that should have stayed buried?

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There’s an old adage that is often repeated in the world of football; you should never go back. Players are warned of the perils of returning to former clubs for fear of tarnishing their carefully cultivated reputations at past homes. And managers even more so, lest we forget the almighty car crash that ensued when Mike Ashley convinced Kevin Keegan to return to St. James’ Par… ahem sorry, the Sports Direct Arena. There is a lot of credence to the view that once the ties have been broken, it would be unwise to find a way back to a former employer, yet the footballing community continue to do so with alarming regularity.

Today should see the widely anticipated return of Nigel Pearson to the helm at Leicester City, and once more a manager has chosen to put at risk the credit he has previously built up amongst the Foxes faithful. Let me say first off that I am writing as a Leicester City fan, and as somebody who firmly believes that the dismissal of Sven Goran Eriksson was ill-timed, desperately shortsighted and plain wrong. Of course, the early part of this season has not entirely gone to plan; those of us who wildly proclaimed that this season would be a mere procession towards the Championship crown are feeling more than a little red-faced. It is also true that Sven made mistakes during his time at the King Power Stadium; the lack of width in the way he set up his teams was a particularly glaring transgression, as was the early season dropping of newly-installed captain and record-signing Matt Mills.

However, the inconsistencies of our early season form are not completely the fault of the Swede; poor refereeing decisions, loss of form of key personnel and ill-discipline have all contributed to the slightly lacklustre start. Having said that, at the time of Sven’s sacking, the club were only two points outside the play-offs, and only five from automatic promotion. The defeat that condemned Eriksson to his fate, a 3-0 home defeat to Millwall was only the Foxes second loss in the previous 12 games, a run that included wins against early pacesetters Brighton and Southampton.

But it is our Thai owners, Mr Raksriaksorn and his son Aiyawatt, who make the decisions at the club and they clearly decided that the job Eriksson was doing fell short of their expectations. A surprise to me and to many of my fellow supporters. A much larger surprise was to follow though, with the emergence of Pearson as the frontrunner to succeed him.

An exhaustive search was made for City’s new manager, the list of names was endless; Roy Keane, Mark Hughes, Martin O’Neill, Billy Davies, Lee Clark, Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Ron Greenwood, Bill Shankly, Ron Manager, Mike Bassett and David Cameron have all been linked with the vacancy over the past few weeks but it seems as though the owners have plumped for Nigel Pearson, and once again I believe they have made a mistake.

Pearson rightly holds a positive place in Leicester City’s recent history. Arriving at the club following their drop into the third tier of English football for the first time in their 125-year history, he quickly and decisively built a squad that would go on to win the League One title fairly comfortably. This was followed by a pretty successful campaign back in the Championship when only a penalty shootout defeat to Cardiff in the play-off semi-final ended the back-to back promotion dream. Pearson’s two years as Leicester manager was a period of stabilisation and rebuilding and he must take a lion share of the credit for the success we enjoyed.

However, Pearson’s stewardship of the club should be remembered for what it was. His first season was in the third tier of English football and unlike other ‘big’ teams that have struggled to get out of League One in the past (Leeds, Forest, Wednesday), we had managed to keep a large number of our first-team squad. It was also a fairly weak league in terms of opposition, there was only Leeds who were of a similar stature and the only other threat came from Peterborough and Millwall. In truth, with the millions of the then owner Milan Mandaric, a talented team and a loyal fan base, the league title could have been won by more than the eventual seven-point margin.

The following season in the Championship is one that I remember well as being a frustrating one. Hovering around sixth place all season, without ever really threatening to break any higher, there were certainly some memorable results. 5-1 against Scunthorpe and a 3-0 home win against local rivals Nottingham Forest were ecstatic highs. But the away fixture at Forest earlier on resulted in a humiliating 5-1 defeat and came as part of a dismal run before Christmas. We have seen over recent years that coming into the Championship after a successful League One season can bring with it a swathe of momentum that carries you through to a prosperous campaign; Norwich last year achieved back-to-back promotions and Brighton and Southampton have both made positive starts this season. Leicester too, were able to ride this wave of optimism during Pearson’s second season, but we never really felt as though we were going to make it. And had we done so, I fear that a Premier League campaign, at that time, with a good Championship team but lacking any real top-flight class would have seen us endure an arduous season.

Tactically speaking, Pearson is not really a subscriber to the Arsene Wenger school of thought. As a tough uncompromising defender, he was an obdurate brick wall, and I think it is fair to say that he sets up his teams accordingly. He sends out his team with the goal of being hard to beat, but a consequence of this is a lack of creativity in midfield and sometimes a shortage of goals. With the calibre of player Sven brought into the club over the summer, Pearson will find that his usual style of play may be difficult to employ.

The squad is vastly different to the one he left when he resigned in 2010, in fact only 10 players in the entire squad were on the books when he left. I worry too about his ability to manage some of the ‘bigger names’ we have at the club. His public fall out with Hull’s star player Jimmy Bullard was not a good sign and after attracting top-quality players like Jermaine Beckford and David Nugent, it would be damaging to have a clash of personalities so early on in their Leicester careers. Nigel Pearson is not a bad manager, I just feel that he lacks the guile and tactical nous to manage at the highest level and I worry that his limitations could become more apparent as the expectations rise.

I sincerely hope that my misgivings are unwarranted, of course I do! As a passionate Leicester City supporter I desperately want us to achieve what we are capable of and win promotion to the Premier League. I hope that in May 2012, I am writing a groveling and sickening eulogy to the job Nigel Pearson has done in our Championship winning season. But there is a reason that so many people use the phrase ‘you should never go back’ and I fear that Nigel Pearson may soon be wishing he had listened.

Do you agree with Chris Pettitt's view or are you glad to have Pearson back? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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