This week Stuart Pearce celebrated a year in charge at the club, and I think it's fair to say that the universal opinion of his time so far is a positive one overall. But breaking it down, just how has Pearce performed since last March when the Keegan era was brought to a conclusion?
- Playing record
Pearce inherited what appeared to be a disjointed and unmotivated side - one which had managed to get themselves in a relgation battle the season before and were going nowhere fast in the Premiership, dumped out of both Cup competitions and had seen Nicolas Anelka depart to Turkey.
He galvanised the side with his effective enthusiasm, and on the back of some superb form from SWP he led the side to within a penalty kick of European competition.
This season, despite the sale of SWP we stared superbly in the league (despite the disappointment of the Doncaster Cup exit). Recent away woes have dented UEFA Cup ambitions but we are still within striking distance of the required 6th/7th place and of course have a good shot at an FA Cup semi-final place.
Out - Shaun Wright-Phillips (£21m, Chelsea) Christian Negouai (Releasd, Standard Liege) Carlos Logan (free, Darlington) Danny Warrender (free, Blackpool) Robbie Fowler (free, Liverpool) Jonathan D'Laryea (Nominal fee, Mansfield) Kevin Stuhr Ellegaard (released) Paul Bosvelt (free, Heerenveen) Jon Macken (£1m, Crystal Palace) Yasser Hussein (released) Steve McManaman (released)
Although the sale of SWP was far from ideal (and one I suspect was more the board sanctioning), Pearce has managed to trim the wage bill by ridding the squad of McManaman and Fowler. Some of the younger players who were identified as not making the grade were also released and a definite plus point was getting Crystal Palace to part with £1 milion for Macken.
As for the players brought in, Pearce was forced to wheel and deal bringing in Cole on a free and Vassell for a knock down price. Musampa on another year loan was a good move and I also like the look of Riera. Matt Mills is a prospect for the future but the first real test of his transfer savvy is the signing of Samaras. £6 million is a lot to pay and although he has got of to a fairly decent start, he has still a lot to learn and prove. This summer will be a big test as he begins to shape the squad how he wants.
He doesn't have a big enough and varied squad to be able to rotate and rest players as the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool etc do. His work before taking over on the defence was clear to see and in the main the defence has remained solid throughout his time in charge. One possible criticism is the approach away from home - especially in recent times, which appears to negative and one dimensional if all does not go to plan. At times I also think his subsitutions are not always correct, in particular Riera being withdrawn and slightly defensive moves are sometimes made when the situation calls for someone like Croft or Ireland to be introduced.
On the whole though no major complaints and we have seen some good stuff being played and are generally harder to beat than in previous years.
An undoubted strength and a feature the press are only to happy to focus on. The players appear more than willing to play for him and several of the senior players have publicly commented on the overall improvement to training and approach to the game that Pearce has brought in comparison to Kevin Keegan. The key with motivating players though is to keep them motivated and hungry to play for you and so far this has definitely been the case.
His infectiousness has also translated to the fans. He was a unanimous choice for the job when he was appointed and he has all of the fans right behind him at this stage - something that I can't remember many (if any) managers enjoying in recent years.
- The future
I think there is every possibility that Pearce will become the longest serving City manager in recent times. The England job is still a possibility but still a long shot in all honesty. Over the last year he has slowly begun to stamp his personality on the team and has now begun to introduce 'his' players into the mix. The squad he has is good enough for a top eight finish (at least), and if he is honest he will admit that he is blessed with the current crop of youngsters who could really explode over the next five years.
For once, there is every reason to be optimistic for the future at City and that future definitely holds a big part for Stuart Pearce to play.