After Nigel Pearson’s departure from Bristol City, it is time to reflect on his extraordinary achievements as Leicester City boss, fans owe him a huge debt.
The managerial merry-go-round has started already. Gareth Ainsworth barely had time to have a post-match cuppa before he was summarily dismissed as QPR manager, despite his team’s heroic rear-guard against the table-topping Foxes. Of greater interest to Leicester fans is the departure of Nigel Pearson from Bristol City following his team’s 2-0 reverse at Cardiff City. Despite stringent financial restrictions, the former Leicester boss did a decent job at Ashton Gate, but the owners have typically unrealistic expectations of what a club of Bristol City’s size can achieve.
If anyone could have upset the footballing applecart and propelled Bristol to the promised land it would be Pearson. It should never be forgotten by Leicester fans what a pivotal role he has played in the Foxes’ recent history.
When Pearson arrived at the King Power in 2008, Leicester were, for the first time in the club’s history, languishing in the third tier of English football. An immediate return to the Championship was achieved as the Foxes topped the league table with a record point’s haul. The following season, Pearson almost secured back-to-back promotions, but, in an agonising defeat in a play-off semi final penalty shoot out against Cardiff City, the team fell just short.
In the summer of 2010, Pearson moved on to Hull as Leicester’s new Thai owners sought a star name to lead the club to the Premier League. The failure of Paulo Sousa – the former Portuguese international, and twice a European Cup winner as a player – and the former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson to achieve this goal, led to a rethink. To his eternal credit, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha ignored the claims of star names such as Roy Keane and Kevin Keegan and went back to Pearson. It was an inspired move.
There was more pain, of course – what Leicester fan can forget the way the Foxes lost to Watford in the 2013 play off semi-final at Vicarage Road? – but Pearson’s steely determination ensured that the promotion goal was secured the following season with the team topping the table with 102 points, 17 points ahead of Derby County who finished in third place.
What happened after that is etched in the heads and hearts of all Leicester fans. Claudio Ranieri, for good reason, takes a lot of the credit for the astounding Premier League triumph in 2016. What shouldn’t be forgotten, though, is that, without Person, it is probable that the Foxes wouldn’t have produced the ‘great escape’ in 2015, maintaining their top-flight status against all the odds.
In addition, Claudio worked with the team that Nigel created. Yes, it is true that two of the stars of the 2015-16 side – Christian Fuchs and N’Golo Kante – were signed after Pearson’s departure (in the summer of 2015 following an ill-fated club trip to Thailand and appalling behaviour by a group of young players including Pearson’s son). However, both Fuchs and Kante were on the club’s radar long before Ranieri took over.
Above all, it was the inspired signings of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez under Pearson’s reign that was the key to the club’s sensational title win. And we shouldn’t forget, either, that Vardy initially struggled in his early Leicester career, and it was only Pearson’s support and encouragement that persuaded him to keep going. Vardy, it is claimed, wanted, at the time, to go back to Fleetwood. For Foxes fans, it is scary to think that Vardy might have left the club.
So, how does Nigel Pearson rate in the history of Leicester City managers? Well, pretty highly I would say. There have been some great bosses – such as Matt Gillies, Jimmy Bloomfield, and even Brendan Rodgers. All of these, however, took over when the club was already in the top-flight. Only Gordon Milne and Martin O’Neil can compete with Pearson’s record of getting Leicester promoted and establishing them in the top division.
Milne (who is about to publish his autobiography) secured promotion from the old Division Two in 1983 and kept the club in the First Division for four seasons. O’Neil took the club up in 1996 and they were still in the top-flight when he left for Celtic in the summer of 2000. Only Pearson, though, succeeded in propelling the Foxes up from the depths of League One to Premier League survival. For this, we Leicester City fans owe Nigel a great debt.