Premier League Clubs Managed: Leicester City (2014-2015), Watford (2019-PRESENT)
Nigel Pearson is back in Premier League management. He was recently appointed Watford’s third manager of their difficult 2019-2020 campaign so far. It will be interesting to see if he can pull off a similar escape he managed during an eventful 2014-2015 season at Leicester City. Pearson also attracted headlines that campaign for a series of incidents which ranged from altercations with opposition players to calling a journalist “an ostrich!”
Before management though, Pearson enjoyed 17 years in the playing spectrum. A no-nonsense style of defender, Pearson was a leader in the dressing rooms he experienced time with. It was no surprise when he ultimately made the step into management once he wound down his playing career in 1998 at Middlesbrough.
A League Cup winner
Pearson’s playing career began at non-league Heanor Town before moving to Shrewsbury Town in November 1981. At the time, Shrewsbury were plying their trade in the Second Division. He had to wait until the start of the 1982-1983 season for his Shrews debut but became a permanent fixture once he’d made his bow for the club.
Between 1982 and 1987, he made 153 league appearances for the club as Shrewsbury established themselves firmly in the Second Division. In October 1987, Howard Wilkinson took him to Sheffield Wednesday, with the Owls paying Shrewsbury £250,000.
Pearson remained at Hillsborough until the summer of 1994. In that time, he made 224 appearances in all competitions for the Owls and was made captain during that time.
His major success in his playing career came in the 1990-1991 season. Pearson skippered Sheffield Wednesday to League Cup glory as they defeated Manchester United 1-0 thanks to John Sheridan’s goal. In the same season, Wednesday, managed by Trevor Francis won promotion to the First Division. A third-place finish followed in the final season of the old Football League structure before the creation of the Premier League.
Pearson led Sheffield Wednesday out on the opening weekend of the 1992-1993 Premier League season and etched his name into the Yorkshire club’s Premier League history books. Pearson scored the club’s first-ever goal in the PL era in the 1-1 draw away at Everton. He impressed in the opening few months but a broken leg in the League Cup semi-finals prevented him from playing a part in the club’s agonising two cup final defeats to Arsenal.
Saved by Glass
In the summer of 1994, Pearson dropped down a division to join new manager Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough. Bought for £750,000, he was captain of the club and helped Boro win promotion to the Premier League as champions of the First Division in the last season at their old Ayresome Park ground.
Pearson remained a big figurehead of the Middlesbrough dressing room, even when more creative talents were signed such as Nick Barmby, Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli. However, Middlesbrough’s 1996-1997 season was a nightmare. They lost both domestic cup finals and a three-point points deduction for not fulfilling a scheduled fixture at Blackburn was a telling factor in their league season. Boro were relegated back to Division One on the final day of the season.
Pearson helped the Teesiders back to the Premier League at the first attempt before deciding to retire from playing in the summer of 1998. In total, he made 544 career appearances, scoring 30 goals.
In his closing months as a player, Pearson was already undergoing his coaching badges and made his first move into management in December 1998 at struggling Third Division side Carlisle United.
Carlisle were fighting a battle to avoid relegation out of the Football League and were in financial trouble too. On transfer deadline day, they were forced to sell their first-choice goalkeeper to provide much-needed funds. Pearson was able to recruit Swindon reserve Jimmy Glass on-loan to finish the season. It turned into one of Carlisle’s best-ever transactions.
On the final day of the season, Carlisle had to win against Plymouth Argyle or face up to relegation to the Conference. Into stoppage-time, they were drawing whilst their relegation rivals Scarborough had finished their match and drawn with Peterborough United.
Pearson sent Glass forward for a corner and with virtually the last kick of the season, Plymouth failed to clear their lines and the ball dropped to the goalkeeper who incredibly found the back of the net. Brunton Park became a scene of immense joy and relief. In the most amazing circumstances, Carlisle had avoided relegation and Scarborough went down instead.
It was a sensational start to Pearson’s management career although he wouldn’t manage again on a permanent basis for another nine years.
First crack at Leicester
Pearson joined the coaching staff at Stoke City that summer under Gary Megson’s management and remained on the staff during Gudjon Thordarson’s reign. In November 2004, he was reunited with his former manager at Middlesbrough, Bryan Robson. Robson had just taken charge of West Bromwich Albion, who were struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table. One of his first acts was to bring Pearson in as his assistant manager.
It was a valuable experience for Nigel and he remained with the Baggies until September 2006 which included a brief caretaker spell after Robson’s resignation. A month later, he became Glenn Roeder’s no.2 at Newcastle United and stayed on as a coach during Sam Allardyce’s short tenure on Tyneside.
In February 2008, he returned to management on a rolling contract at Southampton who were looking set for relegation to League One. However, a good run at the end of the campaign saw the Saints avoid relegation, helped by a final day victory over Sheffield United. That victory was enough for them to overtake Leicester City. The Foxes’ goalless draw at Stoke City wasn’t enough to keep them ahead of the south coast outfit.
In a strange quirk, Pearson ended up becoming Leicester manager a month later after Ian Holloway’s departure. His contract hadn’t been renewed at Southampton and the mission was relatively straightforward. He had to get Leicester out of League One at the first attempt. It was achieved with something to spare. Leicester’s promotion was confirmed in mid-April 2009 as they lost just four games, racking up 96 points to finish runaway champions.
It was his first crack of working at Leicester and it had started exceptionally well. Back in the Championship, Leicester competed very well and ended in the play-off positions but lost their semi-final to Cardiff City. Despite the turnaround, Pearson’s relationship was tetchy at times with club owner, Milan Mandaric. When news emerged that Mandaric was interested in appointing Paulo Sousa as manager, Pearson was allowed to speak to Hull City about the managerial vacancy on Humberside. He was appointed Hull boss in June 2010.
Dented by Deeney
Hull had just been relegated from the Premier League and had some financial difficulties to deal with. Nevertheless, Pearson was allowed to bring in some big new reputations into the club such as Robert Koren and Nolberto Solano. Hull finished in 11th place in 2010-2011 but the hiatus away from Leicester City wasn’t too long.
With Mandaric having departed following a takeover, Pearson was tempted back to The King Power Stadium in November 2011 with the club sitting 12th in the Championship, five places below the club he’d just left, Hull.
His return was initially an indifferent one with results fluctuating from the good to the bad but in 2012-2013, Leicester launched a more sustained promotion challenge. Five straight wins in the early weeks took Leicester top in September and they remained in the shake-up all season. Some inconsistent form denied them a shot at automatic promotion but a 3-2 victory on the final day at local rivals Nottingham Forest ensure a play-off place.
However like in 2010, it ended in despair for Pearson and the Leicester supporters. They lost dramatically in a two-legged affair to Watford. Having won the first leg 1-0 on home soil, they were heading through on away goals in the second leg when Anthony Knockaert had a late penalty saved by Manuel Almunia. Watford went down the other end and Troy Deeney scored a stunning late goal to take the Hornets to Wembley instead.
It was a crushing setback but one Leicester fabulously bounced back from. They were the class of the Championship in the 2013-2014 campaign, going on a club-record run of nine successive wins which had them at one point 10 points clear at the summit. Leicester finished as clear champions and were now ready for their Premier League return after a 10-year absence.
From McArthur to Ostriches
Leicester’s return to the top-flight was not a quiet one. Things started well enough with eight points taken from their opening five fixtures, including a stunning 5-3 victory over Manchester United. That took them as high as eighth in the table but by the end of November, Leicester were bottom of the table and looking set for an immediate return to the Championship.
It seemed like the pressure was taking its toll on Pearson. In February, Leicester lost a home clash with Crystal Palace. During the match, Pearson had put his hands around the neck of opposition midfielder James McArthur, holding him to the ground after McArthur had accidentally knocked him over. A day later, there were widespread reports going round that he had been sacked by the club. These were denied though by the owners and Pearson held onto his job.
At the start of April, the Foxes were still bottom with just four Premier League victories and seven points adrift of safety. Then, they went on an amazing run of form. Seven wins and a draw from their last nine fixtures saw Leicester achieve a rather improbable survival. It remains one of the great Premier League escapes from relegation.
It was slightly overshadowed though by Pearson’s altercation with a journalist in late April after a 3-1 home defeat by Chelsea. After being asked a question about pressure, he took offence to it and called the journalist “an ostrich.” He apologised the following day but it was a bizarre response.
At the end of June, his reign at Leicester was brought to an end by the club’s owners. He was sacked after the string of off-field incidents. Pearson has since worked as a manager at Derby County and Belgian second-tier club OH Leuven. He was sacked from the latter role in February 2019.
10 months later, his Premier League hiatus was ended by Watford, who decided he was the man to try and claw them away from the desperate danger they are currently in. Starting this weekend at Anfield against the current champions of Europe will be a monumental challenge. However, Nigel Pearson has already produced a miraculous recovery from relegation once before. If anyone can keep Watford in the Premier League, he probably can.