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Sorry Stuart, but This One's for the Big Boys

Posted: 27/02/2012 00:00

Oh Stuart Pearce, behave. No sooner had he revealed his willingness to take charge of England at Euro 2012 than the country's football aficionados had slumped face first into their pint. Fabio Capello's exit may have been greeted with wide scale delirium, but this was not the announcement any England fan would have wanted.

While nobody can blame Pearce for throwing his hat into the ring, the stomach-churning thought that he could be allowed to repeat last year's wretched tournament form on the big international stage is nothing short of harrowing. At the European Under-21 Championship Finals last summer, England failed to qualify from the group after producing the kind of turgid offering the senior side so regularly serve up. It was so bad that I had to turn the television off, not even during my darkest days of watching Orient have I ever reached for a blindfold.

While Pearce growled and barked from the touchline, England's youngsters showed the bite of a poodle. Simply shouting, singing the national anthem loudly and asking your players to 'rough up' opponents will not help you compete at the highest level. Yes, he might be wearing a suit but that fails to camouflage the flaws. I know, it sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek but Pearce's critics will use such ammunition for shooting down his credentials.

And yet, without a captain, without a manager and without any hope of triumphing in Ukraine and Poland, England stand staring into the abyss with a man appropriately nicknamed 'Psycho' at the helm.

Perhaps it is apt that given the constant media trauma placed upon the England manager that a man known as 'Psycho' should take the reins for the upcoming friendly against Holland. It's a job that you'd be mad to take, but perhaps be even more crazy to turn down. It's the holy grail, the poisoned chalice, the job of which dreams are made of and more than not, evaporated in the harshest of manners.

Nobody will ever forget Pearce the player. The image of his growling celebration after scoring in the penalty shoot-out against Spain at Euro '96 will endure forever. Remember those days? Remember when it was cool to support England? When England under Terry Venables played football that would get you off your seat and genuinely excited? When Gazza would light up those red-hot summer nights? When Shearer and Sheringham combined to destroy the Dutch? And how it all ended so cruelly against... yes, you guessed it,the Germans. Story of our lives.

I was 12 when 'football came home' that summer. It took me months to emerge from nightmares of Darren Anderton hitting the post against the Germans or from Gazza sliding in only to miss the ball by a matter of millimetres. Then there was that celebration by Andreas Moller. It remains a source of some pain that not even the 5-1 win in Munich some five years later would heal. Even now, some 16 years later I can still see Moller standing there with his hands on his hips just staring. The pain.

And yet, while I wiped away the tears and instead focused on my home economics recipe for school the next day, Pearce's nightmare had come six years earlier.

For a six-year-old watching his first World Cup, Italia '90 was an episode of my life which will remain something of a legend. For me, it will be treasured as one of the defining moments in my decision to seek a career in football writing.

I'll never forget those warm summer nights, the chance to stay up late and watch England take on the world as the likes of Gazza and Gary Lineker sealed their places in the heart of the nation.

Even the slightest mention of 'Nessun Dorma' will have me welling up, picturing Lineker's face as he struck that sweet drive into the far corner of the West German net.

Yet, it is the enduring image of Pearce which will possibly haunt me forever. Even as a six-year-old, I knew that Pearce was a tough, uncompromising and no-nonsense defender who rarely missed an opportunity to put his foot in. He was in essence, what a talk show phone-in punter would refer to as 'a real football man'. Nobody actually knows what that phrase means but they throw it around at every opportunity.

When Pearce stood up to strike his penalty in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup against the Germans, I remember turning to my father and saying, "He's going to miss. It's in his eyes." If there was online betting back in 1990 then I would have made a fortune. Alas, the figure of Ray Winstone did not ruin my television screen and Pearce's miss went down in history as the moment England lost their chance of playing in a second World Cup final.

Much time has passed since then. Pearce even joined Euro '96 penalty miss villain Gareth Southgate in making a Pizza Hut advert in an attempt to put a more jovial note on the episode. But Pearce will forever find his career associated with that night in Turin and that is something he will seldom escape.

Nobody can doubt the character and determination of the man. He remains a fiercely proud and loyal Englishman with the team's interest very much at heart. You would be hard pressed to find anybody with a bad word to say about Pearce 'the man'. But when it comes to coaching the national team he does not possess the necessary tactical acumen to compete with the very best.

Yes, he is young and ambitious but those qualities are not enough at the very highest level. Pearce needs to be more tactically astute simply because England do not possess the players to compete with the likes of Spain, Germany and Holland at international tournaments. The optimists will say England should qualify from their group at the Euros with France, Sweden and Ukraine their opponents. The realists, and I include myself in this camp, conclude that they will fail to progress past the first stage.

While the nation holds its breath to see if the FA will convince Harry Redknapp to give up sure success with Tottenham for the unforgiving and brutal experience of managing England, Pearce will have to suffice. It is a mere short-term solution and under no circumstances should become anything but.

No captain, no manager and no Wayne Rooney for the opening two games. It's always a rollercoaster with England, but this is one ride Stuart should definitely not be boarding.

 

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