Former England skipper and national U21 boss Stuart Pearce speaks exclusively to Simon Milham about how the season will pan out – and who to watch out for
Manchester City spent approximately £130m on full-backs. Is that position more ‘sexy’ than it was when you were playing?
There is expectation on full-backs nowadays that probably wasn’t there as a creative force. Even so, the way I interpreted it was that you had to get forward, you had to score goals as well as what you’d do defensively. There is a lot of expectation on full-backs and a lot of them are converted from other positions. I played 1,000 matches in my career, 250 non-league and the best part of 700 league games and 70-odd internationals. I was always tarred with the same brush.
When it was time to be picked for my first cap internationally, people said ‘he will get sent off all the time’, but I was never sent off for England. I was sent off five times in 1,000 games. Now, once every 200 matches is not bad going.
Certain players get sent off five times in a season now
I was aggressive when I had to be and if you were booked, then you’d tone it right down and just play with common sense. The game has become more of an interception game and less of a contact game, but you have to play to that. There is no point playing to a code of conduct you are happy with, if the referee is going to penalise you and penalise your team.
Turning attention to the Premier League, is it fair to suggest they Reds are defensively light?
Yes. There have been question marks over the goalkeeper and question marks about the central defence partnership. When you look through their team, they have such talent going forward and in the forward areas, that it is probably the defensive unit you worry about. I think Klopp has tried to bring van Dijk in and I think that will happen – if not in January, maybe next summer. That is someone they have earmarked, but for whatever reason that hasn’t happened this summer.
Is that a frustration for Klopp?
Sometimes you go into the transfer market and for whatever reason you can’t get what you want. Everyone is vying for the best players and if you can get them, all well and good. But there is always someone who has more financial clout than you have.
Have Arsenal improved defensively?
Arsene Wenger is an intelligent manager and he has learned the lessons, as have the players who went to Liverpool and played so expansively that they got ripped apart by a team who are not unlike themselves. They proved that with a 0-0 at Chelsea. The exposure on managers is very high at the moment and they are the one person that is interchangeable at the club: Chairman are not going to fire themselves and players are not going to step down and say they haven’t earned their money this week. The manager is the one who, I wouldn’t say the weak link, but he is the one who is interchangeable at the club and that’s the way the profession has gone, I’m afraid.
The tenuous situation for managers was underlined when Harry Redknapp was sacked after just 13 games at Birmingham City. Did he have enough time?
To say he hasn’t had much time there is a ridiculous understatement. He saved them from relegation last year when they looked doomed. The club allowed him to spend £15m on new players and he has worked with those players for a week and then the club decides to change management. It is a ridiculous decision based on I don’t know what. Prior to Harry coming in, it was not as if the club was setting the world alight was it? It is tough, management, and some of the decisions made at board level confuse me and confuse a lot of people in the game.
Is player power an increasing factor? Do players earn too much money these days?
I wouldn’t say players earn too much money. It is market value, although we have lost a lot of good young players because they have been paid too much, too soon. They lost their hunger for the game, so that is a downside in one respect. But if you asked me how much you should pay Ronaldo and Messi and individuals that entertain the world of football, I don’t think you can pay them enough whatever they are getting, to be quite honest. They put their lot in and pay 60-odd matches a year, they play all the games and play at full tilt and are outstanding talents. There are lot of those individuals about, as well.
Moving to a new stadium was unsettling for West Ham last season. Is this the same issue with Tottenham struggling at Wembley?
The new stadium thing is always going to be there. You move into a new stadium and it is the crowd and getting used to sitting next to decent people who don’t bring an atmosphere to generate excitement around the crowd. That’s part of it. As for Tottenham, I think they are missing Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, I really do. They offered so much to the team in the last two years, that they are missing them slightly at the moment, especially with Rose being injured.
Tottenham will improve but not enough to have a tilt at the title
There are better teams in the country than Spurs, but their aspiration should be to break into the top four again and get Champions League football. We have six outstanding teams, who all have great squads, but only four can make it.
Why are West Ham struggling again this season?
To start this season with three away games was not helpful, because you know what it is like, if you pick up a win in your first game, it brings confidence to the team and from there it’s a springboard to build on. But as soon as you lose your first game, then you have got to go away from home again and then you have got to go away from home again – it is tough on them and they are forever playing catch-up from that respect. They have picked up a couple of results now but until the stagger unwinds and their home games catch up with their away games, it will be difficult to judge. I think West Ham will improve as the season goes on.
Everton’s goalscoring troubles continue. How do you assess their start?
To be fair, you have just taken an individual out of their strike-force that scored late-twenties goals, that is an improving talent, that offered them pace and power in behind, that could run the line on his own. You have removed Lukaku for the price of £75m and tried to replace him. Plus, on top of that they have European football this year which is tough on them and secondly, their fixtures have been an absolute stinker – they have played a lot of the big clubs early on. Fixtures have been really tough on them and the stagger will have to unwind a little bit for them as well as the season goes on and they can’t be judged on where they sit at the moment.
Crystal Palace are pointless and goalless. Roy Hodgson has been brought in, but can they survive?
They have got enough talent within the ranks – there is no doubt about it. Sam Allardyce proved that with organisational powers, you can get the best out of the team. At the start of the season, I’m not sure it suited them to play an expansive game. They have spent money in the transfer market on Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend – those two individuals have got to deliver. You throw Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon into the mix and, going forward, they have got enough. What they have got to do is tighten things up at the back to start with – stop conceding goals – and then from there find a way of maximising Benteke, getting him to play, setting things up and score on top of that if possible. I can see them staying up. There will be three worse teams than them. Brighton have got it all to do and Huddersfield will be struggling slightly. They have had a great start but is the squad big enough to maintain it. Swansea are in the mix as well.
Who is your money on for the title?
I think the two Manchester clubs are going to be the ones to beat and, at the start of the season, I said United will win it – and I’ve seen no reason to change my mind. The only thing that might address the balance one way or another will be injuries to key players. If United lose Lukaku for any length of time, that could be a big problem for them. I wonder if City can, defensively, be strong enough to make a real title challenge this year – that would be the only question for me.
Scoring goals is not a problem. People were insisting that Aguero could not play alongside Jesus, which is ridiculous in my opinion. Good payers can play with each other. There is enough of a supply line for Jesus and Aguero to operate in the same team and score goals, which they will do.
Would you ever return to management?
If working for good men and someone decent, then I will apply for the job. At present, I am doing a little bit of coaching with Portsmouth when I have a bit of time to pop in. I also do a little bit of leadership and motivational speaking, which I really enjoy – going to companies and organisations, and speaking about my experience and how that dovetails within their workforce. I am obviously contracted with TalkSport and Betfred, so things are quite diverse for me at the moment and I am enjoying it.
To celebrate the launch of the Pitchero Club app, which is available for free on the iOS app store, you led a Pitchero Invitational XI in a clash against YouTube sensations Hashtag United on Sunday. How did that go?
It was a little one-sided – we got beat 8-0. They have been playing well – they had won their last three games – I just happened to have the Midas touch!
Stuart Pearce was speaking at Pitchero United’s invitational fixture against Hashtag United, to celebrate the launch of the new Pitchero Club app. To find out more, visit join.pitchero.com/the-all-new-club-app