Nigel Pearson has kept such a low profile since being dismissed by Leicester City nearly a year ago that his appearance on Thursday as the manager of Derby County was inevitably going to feature lots of questions about his old job.
And although the 52-year-old insisted he had no wish to serve as “an expert witness” to Leicester’s sensational title triumph, he agreed there were elements of his success at the King Power Stadium he would strive to emulate at Derby. His new employers expressed the same hope.
Mel Morris, the local-born businessman who took over Derby last year, said Pearson’s ability to develop players such as Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater and Wes Morgan was one of the reasons for his appointment. “Look at the number of players in that [Leicester] squad and roll the clock back two years in their careers,” Morris said. “What was the difference? I think Nigel played a very key part in that.”
Pearson alluded to Leicester’s formidable team spirit and suggested he hoped to instil something similar at Derby. “You look at [Leicester] as a group of players and their togetherness and spirit shines out like a beacon,” he said. “But you don’t get that overnight.” Mostly, however, Pearson declined to talk about Leicester “out of respect for Derby and their fans”.
“I understand that it’s a fantastic story and I’m genuinely delighted for the players and my ex-colleagues, it’s unbelievable and it’s right to recognise that,” he said. “Claudio Ranieri managed with an awful lot of skill as well but that’s my observations from afar and there’s nothing further for me to say. I’m fully aware of my contribution and that’s that, I draw a line under it and move on. It’s your prerogative to discuss it in the public domain but I don’t feel the need to get involved in that. I had a lot of success at Leicester City so I think my achievements there speak for themselves.”
That has been Person’s modus operandi in the 11 months since Leicester sacked him. He spent much of that time “seeing the world” and he has the deep tan and relaxed demeanour to prove it but as his former club closed in on last season’s title he was presented with “dozens and dozens of opportunities” to provide lucrative media commentary on the climax to the campaign but declined them because “it’s not my scene”.
He also said he had a “number of opportunities” to return to management before accepting Derby’s offer, admitting he met with Aston Villa officials several times “but it didn’t happen for various reasons”.
When Derby got in touch last month he sensed he had found the right club with which to return to the dugout. “When I had contact with Derby and after my initial meeting, I felt genuinely excited about doing the job here,” he said.
Morris said Pearson “fit uncannily” with his idea of what Derby need from a manager, an idea he said was based on an in-depth review of the club’s last three seasons, during which they have lost twice in the Championship play-offs and once finished just outside.
In short, the owner said the club needs more stability and a more coherent overall vision. It may be telling that Pearson has been employed as a manager rather than a head coach, unlike Paul Clement, who was sacked in February. Derby’s chief executive, Sam Rush, said Pearson will have “full control of the football side of things”.
Harry Redknapp’s short stint as a “football consultant” with the club will not be extended. Pearson has persuaded the former Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town manager Chris Powell to work as his assistant. Powell said he did not view the position of No2 at Derby as a retrograde move in his career and was looking forward to working again with Pearson, under whom he took his first steps as a player-coach in 2009 during Pearson’s first spell as the Leicester manager.
Pearson suggested the chief appeal of the Derby job was the opportunity to influence all aspects of the club’s development, as he has done in previous stints not only Leicester but also at Hull City. He knows, however, that at a club with Derby’s ambition, he must earn the right to be around long enough to fulfil all his own plans. “I don’t think you can ever ask for assurances on time. A lot of is going to be driven by results. I think it would be a bit naive to ask for a time frame, that would be naive,” he said. “I’ve gone into clubs and been a firefighter but I’ve built things as well. One of the things that you have to do is get enough short-term success to allow you to build things. That is the balance. You can’t have one without the other. There are mangers who work from week to week and month to month but I like to have an interest in all facets of the club.”
Pearson will not meet his squad until they return for pre-season training in early July and knows he may also have to attract new ones. Derby’s recruitment team are relatively threadbare and that is one of the things Pearson is likely to have to build. Asked whether he can unearth more raw talents like the ones he found and developed at Leicester, he said: “I hope so. Recruitment is a very important part of modern football. It important to get the right infrastructure in place and the right people to make you competitive because everybody is trying to find the next star that doesn’t cost a lot.”
Derby make no secret of their ambition to take strides in Leicester’s direction. “Let’s get into the Premier League first,” Morris said. “Of course we would like to follow that path, though.”
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