February’s face is full of frost, of storm, of cloudiness. Nigel Pearson seems to be the man wearing February’s face. His team remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, their continued poor form the backdrop of a bizarre week for their manager – who after tangling with Crystal Palace’s James McArthur exchanging frosty words and glances on the Saturday, appeared to have lost his job in the storm on the Sunday, only to stumble on into midweek under the cloud.
Pearson is a combative man, and his post-match assertion that he is “more than capable of looking after himself” suggests he likes to be considered that way. While his coming together with McArthur escaped further scrutiny from the FA, an altercation with a fan towards at the beginning of December saw him pick up a fine and a touchline ban. After that incident, where he claimed to be protecting his players and himself, Pearson initially refused to apologise, drawing criticism from Leicester’s Supporters Club. This time around, Pearson took aim at the BBC, accusing the Match of The Day team of making more of the McArthur incident than was there, and claiming his club didn’t want to sack him – despite Sunday’s rumours – and that he had the support of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Regardless of what he says, Pearson is a man under pressure. Managing the league’s bottom placed side, even if it’s one you got into that league in the first place, is a tough gig to hold on to.
There are two possible explanations for Pearson’s recent behaviour: either he is genuinely feeling the strain, or he is attempting to create a siege mentality at the club.
The second option – although possibly a generous explanation – is an approach that gets results. Jose Mourinho is a master at creating a sense among his team that it is them against the world. Referees are out to get them, opposition teams are out to get them, the media are out to get them. But the players don’t have to worry, the boss has their backs. He’ll fight for them, he’ll take the stick, and they’ll all be in the bunker together getting the job done.
Mourinho may employ this technique when fighting for titles, but it’s equally as valid when fighting relegation. If anything, it’s more of a war down there. Dirty and cheap. If that’s what Pearson is doing, then good luck to him. If he keeps the board on his side, the fans on his side and, most importantly, keeps the faith of the players, it could work. But he has to be in control himself. Every move part of a larger plan. Calculation not emotion.
All of those things are easier when you’re riding high towards the top of the league, not at the bottom with your face in the mud…or shoving someone else’s face in the mud.
Leicester spent in the summer, and topped 100 points as they won the Championship to earn promotion. Expectations were high. Football fans can be a slightly delusional bunch, but they reassess quickly. For Leicester fans, dreams of sneaking a European place will have been replaced by hopes of survival within a few weeks. Even with the spending. The players that earned promotion hold a special place, and big money, highly paid signings have to earn their keep. The clubs which acclimatise well to the Premiership – Southampton’s development is a good example – manage to add strength to their squad, integrate it around existing talent. Leonardo Ulloa joined in the summer for a club record fee, and has done well. Pearson needs a few of them to step up – not least Andrej Kramaric, whose £6.7million transfer in January means all eyes are on him as the saviour. Goals win games, Andrej – he’s on the scoreboard now, after scoring the consolation in a 2-1 loss at Arsenal in midweek. The first of many his manager will be hoping, to keep the fans off both their backs.
Pearson needs belief. He needs his players to believe they can survive. He needs the fans to believe they can survive. And he needs the board to believe he’s the right man to do it.
A lot of this comes down to one fundamental question – is Pearson creating a siege mentality at Leicester, or is he feeling under siege? If it’s the former, and he’s in control, it might come off. If it’s the latter, and he responds the wrong way, he won’t be in the job much longer.
We’ll probably find out sooner rather than later.