I know Nigel from working together and I’m here to tell you that the Nigel Pearson you think you know from his media appearances is light years away from the one who made such a huge impression – and contribution – at The Hawthorns.
By Dave Bowler
Football is a devil for throwing up odd coincidences and bits of synchronicity, and it was at it again last weekend.
Ten years ago, May 15 2005, West Bromwich Albion completed the Premier League’s first “Great Escape” defined, it seems, as staying in the top division despite being bottom of the pile on Christmas Day. Albion were the first team to do it in Premier League history, making it a pretty big deal at the time.
Then, on May 16 2015, ten years and one day later, Leicester City became the third team to achieve what statistics suggest is the near impossible, the Foxes doing it in even greater style with a whole 90 minutes in hand, which, if you ask me, is showing off a bit. The common denominator in those two acts of escapology? Nigel Pearson, assistant to Bryan Robson at the Hawthorns, then the man at the top at Leicester.
I know Nigel from working together and I’m here to tell you that the Nigel Pearson you think you know from his media appearances is light years away from the one who made such a huge impression – and contribution – at The Hawthorns and who is still doing so at the KP Stadium.
One thing that does come across is his intensity. Nigel is a very focused individual, passionate about his work and with a very clear idea of just what he wants to achieve and how he wants to achieve it.
Internally, within the football club, that creates a great sense of calm. In Albion’s “Great Escape” season, it was very evident that Pearson believed in Bryan Robson, believed in the players and believed that our fixture list provided opportunities to gather points.
There was no sense of panic but instead, while Robson dealt with the public face of the club, a very clear line – work hard, believe in what we are doing and we will get there. Things must have been similar at Leicester in recent months.
Of course, at Leicester, he has had to be the public face himself and clearly he is less than enamoured with that. I’m not keen to speak on his behalf – he’s a lot bigger than me – but I suspect that while he understands that it’s the media that funds the game, theirs is a game he doesn’t much like playing.
While away from the game he is good and lively company, at work, he is a serious man who, I think, finds it hard to take seriously the questions he gets asked week after week. Given I’m on the questioning side of the fence and have, believe me, asked more than my quota of stunningly stupid questions over the years, I have sympathies in both camps, with the journos and with Pearson for having to put up with us.
But here is the great inconsistency with which we live these days. We bemoan a lack of characters, we complain that people never say anything, that the game is reported under strict Pravda guidelines. It’s a reasonable point. But why then, when someone speaks his mind, calls a spade a sodding great shovel and simply tells it as it is, are they immediately treated as some kind of leper by the same media that should be lapping it up?
It’s an oddity of the age that’s not restricted merely to football, but one that we would all do well to contemplate. There’s a great warmth to Nigel Pearson too which doesn’t always come across on screen, one which extends beyond the players and takes in the whole club.
If you have worked with him, you can understand why Leicester kept faith in him because up close, he’s the kind of person that people want to go the extra mile, a characteristic that he has in common with the man he might well succeed as the Manager of the Year, Tony Pulis. Nigel Pearson, the Houdini of modern football, we salute you.