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Under-21 manager relishing the chance to name his England squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Holland
When Stuart Pearce gets round to naming his first England squad at a Football Association press conference on Thursday he will have to hope he has done his maths better than on his first day in management.
It came just before Christmas 1996, when Frank Clark left Nottingham Forest and Pearce was invited to take charge as player-manager. That night Pearce remembers trying “at least 20 times” to come up with a team that looked right. Eventually, he decided he had nailed it and showed his wife, Liz.
“She sat there staring at it,” he remembers. “I had five at the back, three in midfield and Bryan Roy behind the front two. She asked: ‘Why haven’t you included a goalkeeper?’ It was a shambles.”
Older, wiser, Pearce will announce his squad at 11.30am for the friendly against Holland next Wednesday, the first real opportunity for the team to try to shake the Fabio Capello furore out of their system. Once the match is finished, Pearce will return to managing the Under-21s and preparing a Great Britain side for the Olympics while the FA decide the best way to approach Spurs about Harry Redknapp’s potential availability.
Redknapp will almost certainly be invited to take over for the next game, in Norway on 26 May, only a couple of weeks before the start of Euro 2012.
Another captain might be appointed, a new set of players, different tactics.
All the same, the Holland game should not be considered an irrelevance when it presents the opportunity for experimentation and, specifically, a chance to see how some of the younger players with genuine aspirations of playing at Euro 2012 can manage against a side who are third in Fifa’s world rankings.
When Peter Taylor took over on a one-off basis against Italy in November 2000 he gave David Beckham, then 25 , his first game as captain, left out three former captains in Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Paul Ince, and brought in Paul Robinson and Seth Johnson for debuts in a squad without a single player over 30.
As for who may be left out, Pearce has telephoned several players this week and when someone as established as Joleon Lescott is included in that number, the clear indications are that the something new is planned. Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard are among those waiting to find out if they have gone the same way as Lescott.
John Terry’s absence creates an opportunity to see, perhaps, how Phil Jones and Chris Smalling can manage at centre-half. Tom Cleverley is fit again and, if Pearce is feeling adventurous, this could be a chance to see how Daniel Sturridge and Daniel Welbeck combine in attack ahead of a tournament in which Wayne Rooney will be suspended for the first two games. Andy Carroll may also be hopeful that his improved form has been noticed, while Micah Richards, in particular, will be encouraged by the change of manager.
Richards was rarely involved under Fabio Capello, but Pearce gave him his first-team debut at Manchester City.
Previous managers have not held press conferences simply to announce their squads, but Pearce has decided to front it up despite knowing there will also be questions about the complex set of events that has seen the FA depose Terry as captain because of his court case for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, losing Capello in the subsequent fall-out, then appointing someone who once used a similar slur towards Paul Ince during his own playing career.
His answer, almost certainly, will be that something from December 1994 should probably be thought of, in football terms, as a spent conviction, especially as he apologised at the time. He has already distanced himself from his brother Dennis’s position as a significant figure within the British National Party and if he could have one wish, it is that these issues do not linger much longer. In one sense, Terry’s absence makes it easier for him, removing a lot of the politics.
There is, after all, plenty at stake here for Pearce in terms of trying to establish himself as a manager with genuine qualities at the highest level.
As a player, Pearce was a formidable opponent who won 78 caps and was so committed to the business of winning he once tried to run off a broken leg. When he took over from Kevin Keegan at Manchester City in 2005 his early results were so impressive there was sustained talk about him becoming a permanent England manager one day.
It has not worked out that way, of course, and when Pearce left City two years later his stock had deteriorated in line with the team’s results. In his final season, City did not manage a single league goal at home from New Year’s Day onwards. In total, they scored 10 at Eastlands all season. It was a record low for a top-flight club.
This is why nobody took David Bernstein, the FA chairman, too seriously when he put Pearce forward as a candidate to replace Capello permanently because, let’s face it, you would have to have been on a particularly remote desert island not to realise that Redkn app being offered the job is about as near a certainty as there is.
Pearce is merely holding the fort but Redknapp, we can be certain, will be watching with interest.