Such is the fate of anyone with an unorthodox and large personality, Nigel Pearson’s reputation precedes him. The recently installed Watford boss is a disciplinarian. He is scary. He has the severe haircut of an eleven-year-old bully and the demeanour of a community copper with a grudge.
Then there are his ostrich quotes. You know the ones. On taking umbrage with a reporter who questioned whether Pearson’s Leicester side were receiving undue negative coverage, they spewed forth in an estuary accent to a gob-smacked press room. “I think you are an ostrich. Your head must be in the sand. Is your head in the sand? Are you flexible enough to get your head in the sand? My suspicion would be no. I can. You can’t.”
There aren’t many Premier League managers who make such boasts but Pearson already had form for bizarre bragging, once claiming that he outwitted a pack of wild dogs in the Carpathian mountains by rolling around in nettles. How could we forget too his strange ‘I’m more than capable of looking after myself’ defence after a downright weird touchline fracas with Wigan’s James McArthur in 2015. What bothered people at the time was his unerring smile as he placed the midfielder in a stranglehold after an accidental collision. Pearson though – for reasons that will never be explainable – mistook our confusion as a slight on his masculinity.
So of course when dealing with an original character as this preconceived perceptions follow suit. A cartoonish, one-dimensional prejudice that means when that person is appointed manager of a struggling Premier League club after a couple of years out of the spotlight, we smile and wonder what madness awaits. That in itself is perfectly understandable.
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Where legitimacy ends however is when that appointment is greeted with a big dose of surprise because the personality behind the coach merges in our mind’s eye with his managerial acumen. That is unfair and hopefully, having picked up eight points from his opening five games in charge at Watford – that includes also a series of noticeably improved, better organised and committed displays – we are now seeing the error in that. We are now separating the man and the manager.
Because make no mistake about it, Pearson is an excellent coach. It was illustrated in his superb marshalling of the Foxes to survival in 2015 when all hope seemed to be lost. Empirical proof that an individual has the capacity to revive a club in a tail-spin is exactly what the Hornets need right now.
It is illustrated too in a stabilising of a relegated Hull City in 2010 and guiding them to mid-table in the Championship with a long-standing club record broken along the way, as they remained unbeaten for 14 away games.
Mostly, it is illustrated in the groundwork he can take credit for prior to Leicester City’s incredible Premier League title triumph. It was Pearson who signed Jamie Vardy from non-league Fleetwood. It was Pearson who signed Riyad Mahrez, then a relative unknown and Danny Drinkwater, likewise. It was him who brought in Robert Huth mid-season, putting the first bricks in place for what became an iconic Leicester backline.
To relish the prospect of further daftness in interviews and incidents from this unique character is entirely natural given Pearson’s back catalogue of weirdness. But let’s not forget that there is every reason to believe it will be Watford fans laughing loudest at the season’s end.
Boasting a squad so Premier League proven that it finished eleventh last season and reached the FA Cup final, as results are already showing Pearson is more than capable of guiding the Vicarage Road outfit back to their usual abode of mid table.