Jim White

Psycho not ready for England role

Jim White

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By an odd quirk, after they had both been largely messed up by previous expensive, high-profile incumbents, England's two most significant international teams are under the temporary control of blokes called Stuart.

Though a shared Christian name is where any similarity between Stuart Lancaster, in charge of England's rugby side through the Six Nations, and Stuart Pearce, keeping the seat warm for the pointless football friendly next week against Holland, ends.

Lancaster, those in the know will tell you, is a man who should have the job permanently. A reasonable but not elevated player, he has been a career coach, working his way up the system, guiding club sides and international B-teams. Anyone who has watched him on the training pitch will have seen a man of calm authority, a clear communicator, straight, honest and utterly controlled.

Unlike Martin Johnson, the previous coach, Lancaster knows exactly and precisely how to diagnose problems and implement tactical change. He is, moreover, a winner, trusted and admired by those he works with. Anyone with any sense — which, admittedly, probably rules out the entire RFU board — would have given him the job full time back in January, as soon as it became available.

And then there is Stuart Pearce. A magnificent, passionate, determined, patriotic warrior of a player, Pearce maintained such levels of personal fitness he was still employed to rough up opposing wingers when he was 40. But he had already started the process of becoming a coach, working hard to take his badges, a model student.

Nine years on, the educative process has taken him all the way to temporary charge of his country. Watching him at his first press conference yesterday, unveiling his first selection of players, we saw a man who has learned well from all those seminars he observed. He talks in a flat, undemonstrative way that suggests he has been dining overnight on a coaching manual.

"Line-judgment" is a favourite word. And "module". Plus "federation". Which, if nothing else, is a novel term for the Football Association. And, though he admitted he was not yet sufficiently experienced to have the job permanently, he spoke yesterday of his readiness and keenness to take England on to Euro 2012. He knows, he said, all about tournaments. He could do it, he insisted. He is ready for duty.

And yet, unlike with Lancaster, with Pearce you get the overwhelming feeling watching him in action that at any moment he will leap up from his chair, rip off his tie, expose his chest and pile into the gathering of journalists to head butt the next guy who asks him whether he will bring Frank Lampard back for the Euros or whether he favours Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard for the captaincy.

And this is not simply because of the reputation he developed as a player. The thunder thighs, the square mouth victory yowl, the bloodied shirt: not for nothing was he known on the pitch as Psycho. It is because we have witnessed him carrying a similar demeanour on to the touchline. Remember the Euro Under-21 final in 2011, when, as coach of the England team, he went absolutely doollaly as his side sank against Germany, spending 90 minutes ranting and raving and giving a very good impression of a man in urgent need of medication?

It wasn't just then, either. Against Italy in the 2009 competition, in full hearing of the television microphones, he yelled at James Milner as he ran at the left-back Giorgio Chiellini "take him on, he can't f*****g play".

Now, Sir Alex Ferguson, interviewed on the radio earlier this week, insisted that a temper was an important part of a coach's make up. The occasional strong words are necessary, he has found, to chivvy players, to remind them of their responsibility. But Ferguson knows when and how to use his reputation for strong verbals. What he doesn't do is lose control in the way that Pearce did that day against Germany.

Because — as Stuart Lancaster is so vividly demonstrating — control is the coach's most important virtue. What players want most from their manager is a suggestion, calmly delivered, as to how they might improve. Against Germany, what England's youngsters needed was some sensible ideas on how they could battle the oncoming tide. Instead, they got a goggle-eyed stream of babble. Losing it, bellowing out an incoherent splurge of expletive, merely makes the players think you haven't a clue what you are doing.

To be fair, this week Pearce looked at his press conference to have learned from that experience. His demeanour was calm and professional, he had regained his composure. Yet still he gives off the lingering impression of constantly battling the inner man, fighting Dr Bruce Banner-like to suppress his interior reality. Maybe one day he'll finally overcome such a view. But he hasn't yet.

But the very fact that several of this morning's newspapers were carrying his suggestion that he might take control of the Euros as a serious possibility is demonstrative of the paucity of choice facing the FA. Unlike the Scots, who have managers everywhere (the excellent Malky Mackay who will be showcasing his credentials on Sunday in the Carling Cup final is but the latest Glaswegian leader on the march) the English are now under the control of a bloke who failed at every club he has managed, and looked utterly demented at the last tournament at which he took charge.

The more Pearce promotes his case, the sooner the blazers better get on their knees and pray. If they want an Englishman at the FA, they have got to hope to God Harry doesn't turn them down. Because the alternative looks rather terrifying.

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