What’s the difference between Nigel Pearson and an ostrich? No, this isn’t the opening line to a terrible joke. Perhaps more worryingly, it’s a genuine question. The answer? Not a lot of difference, if you believe the Leicester manager’s bizarre post-match rant after his side’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Chelsea on Wednesday night. Because, you see, just like an ostrich, Nigel Pearson is ‘flexible enough’ to get his head in the sand.
Ok, ok – a strange way to start things, I admit. Perhaps it’s better if some context is provided. Part way through his post-match press conference, Pearson was commenting on his pride in his players and their remarkable recent turnaround in fortunes. Despite being bottom of the table for the majority of the season, Leicester had managed 4 straight wins on the bounce heading into the Chelsea game – something their manager rightly praised. He was particularly proud of them for achieving this despite having to endure what he described as ‘criticism and negativity’ for much of the season. When asked by rookie journalist Ian Baker to specify exactly what criticism he was referring to, Pearson began his rant, claiming Baker must have been ‘on holiday’ or ‘in the clouds’. He claimed Baker must be ‘stupid’ for not being aware of the criticism he felt Leicester had faced. He further berated the young journalist, implying he wouldn’t be flexible enough to bury his head in the sand like an ostrich, unlike Pearson. Following this exchange, Pearson stormed out, leaving the room of journalists bewildered.
Quite a surreal chain of events, I’m sure you’d agree. But what does it say about the Leicester gaffer? What could drive him to respond to a relatively innocent question in such a strange manner? There’s no doubt Pearson and his players have been under considerable pressure, particularly since Christmas, with relegation an ever-present threat. Perhaps an indication of just how poor their season has been is the fact that their recent four-game winning streak accounts for 50% of all matches won by the Foxes this season, contributing to a meagre 31 points on the board so far.
For me, however, it reveals something about Pearson and, possibly, more managers that they wouldn’t necessarily like you to believe. It’s obvious from his post-match comments that Pearson believes his players have been given a hard time by the media. It was, of course, Pearson himself who raised the issue of this supposed criticism without prompt. But, in order for him to feel this way, Pearson is going against the age-old adage that managers and players ‘never pay attention to the papers’. He has obviously held a finger up to the wind at various points this season, trying to sense the general feeling about the club and, perhaps more accurately, his own management skills. Such practice exposes Pearson and, perhaps the entire footballing profession, as the perennial little-white-liars we all already know they are.
Moving on from that, however, the rant only adds to the already-impressive rap sheet Pearson has built over the season. There was altercation with a Foxes fan which got him a £10,000 fine and a touchline ban, in which he told the fan to ‘f*** off and die’. Then there was the bizarre dugout clash with Crystal Palace’s James McArthur, in which he pinned the player to the floor by his neck, later claiming it was all in good fun. And, finally, his confrontation with the Match of the Day pundits, in which he accused them of making ‘a mountain out of a molehill’ over the McArthur incident.
The ostrich rant only serves to further Pearson’s reputation as a somewhat combative personality with ideas not always entirely based in reality. The journalist’s line of questioning, far from being indicative that he was ignorant of Leicester’s criticism, was merely an often-used tactic in the world of football writing to get Pearson to say something ‘quotable’. But defending the journalist isn’t really the point. What’s more appropriate to point out, perhaps, is that, for a team who have had such a poor season, I can’t actually remember a team getting such an easy ride from the media. Time and again, Leicester City’s players have been praised for playing well despite losing, with many wondering how exactly they have come to find themselves in their current predicament. This praise has, rightly, continued following their recent upturn in fortunes and many are holding their breath to see if the Foxes can achieve the notoriously near-impossible feat of surviving relegation despite being bottom of the table at Christmas.
It’s, of course, possible that Pearson may not be as irrational as some of his actions would suggest. As previously considered by Arlen Pettitt in a piece on Pearson for The Boot Room in February, he could be employing the well-used and often-effective ‘siege mentality’ tactic. It’s a plausible enough explanation and one I would rather was true than the alternative that big Nige actually believes what he’s saying. Whatever the reason for his shenanigans, Pearson and Leicester have, at the very least, provided us with some of the most memorable moments of the 2014/15 season, even if most of them have been off the pitch. And yet, they may save their most memorable moment for last. They may just pull off an escape worthy of Houdini, meaning that, despite everything, it will be on the pitch that a lasting memory is made.