Pearce makes his mark… but the caretaker's ramshackle build-up has a whiff of farce
As a photograph of Fabio Capello left the building under the arm of a Wembley handyman on Tuesday, Stuart Pearce went into full England manager mode.
Never mind that the friendly with Holland could mark his one crack at the top job. Pearce was preparing for this summer’s European Championship in the hope that he might yet be in charge, ordering his players to practise penalties having already informed them of certain changes he had made to his Italian predecessor’s pre-tournament plans.
Leading his merry men: Stuart Pearce put on quite the show at Wembley
‘Fabio had most of the planning and training-camp details put into place and I’ve tinkered with that slightly,’ he said.
For a former full back whose distinguished England career was defined by two penalties, spot-kicks amounted to an essential part of Tuesday's training session.
Pearce took up his position on the edge of the area armed with a clipboard that enabled him to take copious notes. Only three of the players missed, Ashley Cole shooting wide before Theo Walcott and Scott Carson saw their efforts saved.
Juggling act: Pearce still has big decisions to make before the game against Holland
The changes to Capello’s pre-tournament plans remained something the Football Association were not prepared to confirm, beyond suggesting that Marbella might not now be the destination for a bit of warm-weather training.
But Pearce clearly wanted to give the impression that he is now every inch the man in charge, even choosing to select the Under 21 side that will meet Belgium in Middlesbrough this evening.
When it came to the rather more serious business of an encounter with Bert van Marwijk’s World Cup finalists, Pearce was not giving much away.
Last week he suggested too much had been made of the England captaincy issue but the question of who would captain the national team this evening was not one he was willing to answer, even though he says he has made his decision.
If there is a concern about Steven Gerrard after battling through 120 minutes of Carling Cup action on Sunday, it is not apparently shared by the Liverpool midfielder, who wants to start.
Pearce has actually succeeded only in increasing the focus on the captaincy by choosing to wait until 10 o’clock this morning to tell a squad as much in the dark about the team he intends to pick.
With Gerrard and Stewart Downing sitting out the main part of Tuesday’s training session and Glen Johnson sidelined by injury, Pearce was working with limited numbers — just as he had been the previous day when those who played on Sunday also missed the main session.
It is fair to say this will not be the best prepared England team we have seen — Pearce was not even able to hold an 11-a-side practice match. He was forced to conduct an eight-on-eight game instead.
Spot of bother: Ashley Cole was one of three players to miss a penalty in a shootout
Having informed some senior internationals they would not be required for this friendly, Pearce’s call-up of defender Joleon Lescott — for the injured Johnson — added to the sense of farce.
At one end of the pitch Pearce took the defenders, working with two back fours. The first had Micah Richards to the right of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling with Leighton Baines on the left flank. The second saw Smalling on the right, Richards to the right of Phil Jones in the middle and Ashley Cole to the left.
At the other end of the pitch the forwards and midfielders worked under the guidance of Steve Wigley before Pearce organised an eight-a-side game. In orange bibs Daniel Sturridge and Theo Walcott took up their positions either side of Danny Welbeck in what would be an exciting front three but one that would be just as quick if Ashley Young featured.
Born to lead: Will Steven Gerrard be England captain against Holland
The penalties followed and after that came the series of press conferences, with Joe Hart presented to the media with the insistence that this did not necessarily mean he was skipper.
According to sources on Tuesday night, Gerrard will probably get the nod with Hart taking on the role in the second half.
Gerrard has to play and he has to be captain. Not only is he England’s most influential player. He has been unavailable for international duty for more than a year because of injury and he needs to reacquaint himself with some and introduce himself to others in this rapidly changing squad. For a start he has not yet joined Scott Parker in midfield.
On Tuesday Pearce did acknowledge Gerrard’s importance. ‘As a role model he is as good as it is going to get in this nation,’ he said.
Hart, meanwhile, said he was happy just to have a goalkeeping coach, in Ray Clemence, who addressed him by his correct Christian name.
At the 2010 World Cup Franco Tancredi was forever calling him ‘John’. ‘It makes a nice change,’ said Hart, a little red-faced.
Nobody’s face was a darker shade of red, however, than that of Pearce. If he seemed relatively calm last week, he appeared rather more intense with kick-off little more than 24 hours away. There was more of an edge to this most passionate of patriots, his mood familiar to those who have followed him at Under 21 tournaments.
… or will it be the goalkeeper, Joe Hart who dons the armband
A little flustered, he referred to John Terry as ‘the current captain’ before then correcting himself. ‘The proudest moment of my career was captaining England,’ he then said. ‘If I feel that in my heart then I can’t take that decision lightly.’
Of utmost importance on Wednesday is the performance of the strikers, in particular Welbeck. With Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two games of Euro 2012 and Darren Bent now a doubt for the tournament with a serious ankle injury, the search intensifies this evening for Rooney’s understudy.
‘We have to come out of this game with one or two individuals having confirmed that, yes, they can fulfil that role in the team,’ he said.
If Pearce manages to do that he would have served his country well.