Mention Stuart Pearce's name to any England fan and the image of his reaction to scoring a penalty in a shoot-out victory over Spain will come to mind. The eye-popping, vein pulsing, fist-clenching reaction fits well with the moniker of 'Psycho' he earned for his committed on-field displays during his 19-year professional career.
In contrast, Pearce is probably better remembered by fans outside English shores, particularly German ones, for his weak penalty in the semi-final against West Germany during the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™. Yet, the full-back's career should not be just remembered for two penalties of contrasting fortunes. His career was long and distinguished as a genuine on-the-field leader. Pearce served as captain for his clubs and country and has the added bonus of playing under arguably the greatest-ever club manager in the English game, Brian Clough, during his days at Nottingham Forest.
“You only need to look at what he achieved with the likes of Forest and Derby, league championships, back-to-back European Cups; he stands alone,” Pearce recalled of Clough to FIFA.com. "I've never known someone with such a strong personality. I was very fortunate to work with him for eight years. He played a massive part in my career."
Given his ebullient personality, charisma and success, many books and even a film has been produced about 'Cloughie,' who once declared: 'I may not be the best manager in the business, but I'm in the top one!' Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pearce has a wealth of stories about his former boss, but picked out one to share with FIFA.com's visitors.
"I remember Millwall got into the top flight and there were questions about hooliganism and intimidation at the Den [Millwall's notorious stadium]. But Cloughie stopped the coach a mile and a half away from the ground and made us walk the rest of the way! He wanted to show that we weren’t intimidated or scared, but I was absolutely petrified! I made sure I kept up with him, because he had a big walking cane – and if there was any trouble, he wouldn’t have been slow in using it!”
It was a new experience for me, I remember how nervous I was but on top of that the buzz I got was unbelievable. Italy was a great environment to play your football in.
Having been a manager himself, Pearce fully appreciates the role played by those who nurtured his ability; Clough, former Wales manager Bobby Gould and even Terry Venables, but he reserved special praise for the late Sir Bobby Robson, who passed away earlier this year.
"Bobby Robson was exactly the same as the general public perceived him to be,” he stated emphatically. "He was a great gentleman, a great man, and a great manager. He managed England for eight years, and I don’t know if that will ever be matched. He always conducted himself with great integrity, even after a crushing defeat in the semi-final against Germany.
"I was very fortunate to have played under him for two-and-a-half years in the international set-up, especially at Italy 1990, which was the pinnacle of my career. It was a new experience for me, I remember how nervous I was but on top of that the buzz I got was unbelievable. Italy was a great environment to play your football in - and that experience stays with you all your life. It's hard to believe that it's nearly 20 years ago."
Now 47, Pearce is busy guiding the next generation of England stars in his role as coach of England’s U-21 side, a role he combines with serving as an assistant to Fabio Capello. The former Manchester City manager will be travelling to South Africa with the Three Lions next year and is relishing the experience of seeing the FIFA World Cup from a different perspective. It was also coincidental, that after recalling the memories of Italy 20 years ago, Pearce was quick to praise an Italian for helping him develop as a coach.
"Fabio hasn’t been as influential as Brian or Bobby on my life – yet," he said. "But the more time I spend with him the more influential he is in terms of my coaching career. He's totally different to the likes of Clough or Gould. When I was playing, I only worked with British coaches, so working with a foreign coach is something new and refreshing for me. It will be absolutely fantastic to go to South Africa as part of the coaching staff, and it's great to learn from someone of Fabio's pedigree. You learn everyday of your life – and I'm just loving being involved in the international set-up."
Clubs: Wealdstone (1978-83), Coventry City (1983-85), Nottingham Forest (1985-97), Newcastle United (1997-99), West Ham United (1999-2001), Manchester City (2001-02)
National team: 78 appearance, 5 goals
Honours: 2 English League Cups (1988/89, 1989/90), UEFA Intertoto Cup (1999)