There is a passage in the prologue of Never Stop Dreaming, Stuart Pearce’s new retrospective on Terry Venables’s England team and their fondly remembered journey to the semi-finals of Euro 96, where the man formerly known as Psycho ponders the roles of love and hate in football and how they can become the drivers that encourage different players to compete and excel.
‘I saw something in the paper the other day,’ writes Pearce, a former England caretaker manager and England Under-21 boss, ‘and the question was, “Are you motivated by love or hate when you play football and which is the more powerful?” Interesting question. If it were me, I would edge towards hate.’
He thinks about that as he sits in an office in London’s West End, about how raw aggression used to play more of a part in the game for players in the Eighties and Nineties. ‘You had to fight your corner,’ he says, ‘otherwise you were going home.’
Stuart Pearce admitted to Sportsmail he used to ‘edge towards hate’ during his playing career
The man formerly known as ‘Psycho’ ponders how both love and hate can motivate players
Pearce openly admits to having used his violent reputation to intimidate players in his career
He thinks about how he would have adapted if he were playing today when ‘defenders are afraid to touch attackers’. Maybe his nickname would not have been Psycho if he were playing now? ‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘But I don’t think it would have been Tippy Toes, either.’
He talks about how he used to try to intimidate players by playing up to his slightly deranged, violent reputation. ‘I was always in control,’ he says. ‘The worst thing you can do is be out of control when you cross that white line. My outward emotions did not reflect what I was feeling on the inside. It was how I portrayed myself to the opposition. It was just to make my job easier.’
Times have changed, the rules have changed and players have changed and the amount of money in the game has changed and the way managers get the best out of players has changed. And the hate in the way players play the game has receded and management is more and more about man-management.
Pearce was the first player to console Gareth Southgate after his missed penalty at Euro 96
Pearce, 58, can see that and he can see that his old friend and team-mate, Gareth Southgate, the man he was first to console when Southgate missed the critical penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany, has got the formula right as he leads England into another European Championship and tries to take them further than they went a quarter of a century ago.
‘I played with hate for England,’ writes Pearce. ‘I played with resentment and anger. I saw criticism coming so I used the hate as a kind of pre-emptive strike. There was so much hostility from the press when you played for your country, it was easy. You tell yourself, “OK, what have I got to lose?” You are in front of a firing squad anyway so it doesn’t make any difference; you might as well come out fighting.
‘At the World Cup in 1990 and at Euro 96, we got to a stage at two tournaments where we got so sick of the criticism, we thought, “F*** you, what’s the worst that can happen to us now? You’ve already had a dig at us, you’ve put a marker down you don’t like us and you think we’re crap so we’ll just have to show you”. And in both tournaments, we showed them.
‘At the other end of the spectrum, you do what Gareth did with the England team and the media before the 2018 World Cup and you build the love. His players felt the pressure was taken off them. At both ends of the spectrum the pressure was taken off. The players in 2018 felt the media and, more importantly, the crowd and the supporters watching at home were behind them.’
The West Ham coach has been spotted speaking to David Moyes over the phone at games
He has thought about adapting his game in an age where defenders are afraid about contact
Pearce, now part of the West Ham first-team coaching staff and most recently seen with a telephone glued to his ear in the stands at the London Stadium as he listened to instructions from manager David Moyes, self-isolating at home during a bout of coronavirus, believes that the positive culture Southgate has built in a young, talented squad can take England to victory at the delayed Euros next summer.
He and Southgate have been good friends for a long time. Pearce, a dedicated punk fan, persuaded the now England manager to go to a Sex Pistols gig with him at Finsbury Park the evening after England beat Spain in the shoot-out at the end of their quarter-final in 1996, a shoot-out notable for Pearce’s reaction to scoring a penalty, a release of pent-up emotion that summed up the feelings of a nation and defined his career.
Southgate had never been to a concert before, says Pearce, let alone a Sex Pistols concert, but they got backstage passes, met the band and before Southgate knew it, he had been persuaded to pull on a T-shirt with the band’s name on it. Suddenly, the man who, a quarter of a century later, would be leading his nation towards another tilt at European Championship glory on home soil, was up on the stage, introducing Johnny Rotten and the rest to the roiling crowd.
‘I don’t know if Gareth was nervous about going to the concert,’ says Pearce, smiling at the memory. ‘The beauty of Gareth is that you could put him in any group of people. You could put him in the presence of a band like that or put him with royalty and he will be the same rounded individual. Whether he was looking forward to it or not, I don’t know. I just needed company.’
Pearce believes his old friend Southgate, has now got the formula right as England manager
Never Stop Dreaming, which I co-wrote with Pearce, is full of recollections like that, full of memories of Paul Gascoigne, the greatest England player of the past 50 years, says Pearce, and of the factors that came together to lift England so close to glory. Next summer, it will be 25 years since Euro 96 but Pearce can see the same factors coalescing again.
There is little point reading too much into England’s 3-0 friendly victory over Wales at Wembley on Thursday night, although it did feature a fine creative performance from Jack Grealish, an encouraging debut from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and a goal from Wolves centre-half Conor Coady that helped to restore the feelgood factor to a squad that has been rocked by Covid-19 controversies.
But Pearce feels that, after Southgate led England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and the Nations League semi-finals in 2019, his blend of trust and toughness, the talent of the squad and the experience some players have had of winning World Cups at youth level, coupled with the fillip of playing in front of home fans, could propel the country to its first major tournament triumph since 1966.
‘I can see similarities with the success we built towards at Euro 96 and I think this squad can go further,’ says Pearce. ‘The young English age-group teams have been very successful and Gareth will be acutely aware of every player that is coming through the system.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin helped restore England’s feelgood factor after recent controversies
The 58-year-old Pearce pointed out similarities between now and England’s Euro 96 campaign
‘Come next summer, we have got every opportunity. I felt the impact our home crowd had on me in ’96 and I hope the fans are back next summer because that will be a massive plus if we are playing the bulk of our games at Wembley.
‘The truth is there is no definitive powerhouse around Europe or the world at international level at the moment. There are a lot of reasonable teams but there is no team who are nailed on to win the Euros. Italy have come on the scene again, France have the confidence that comes with winning the World Cup and Germany will be strong, but there is no single team you think you have got to beat to win this.’
The beginning of England’s build-up to next summer’s tournament has been clouded by disciplinary issues. Southgate dropped Harry Maguire from the first Nations League squad of the season after his misadventures on the Greek island of Mykonos and Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood, Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho were all left out of the party for the Wales game after breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
Southgate was irritated by the unnecessary noise around the players’ misadventures and the distraction it caused but Pearce, who worked as a popular contributor to talkSport and delivering lectures on leadership in his recent spell away from the game, feels the way Southgate’s replacements seized their chances was a sign of the way the England manager has built a culture of togetherness and responsibility within the squad.
Southgate has cultivated a culture of togetherness and responsibility within his England squad
‘Gareth has a calmness about his decision-making that is really important,’ says Pearce. ‘I don’t think there is a boom-and-bust mentality about anything he says or does. Everything he does is thought out. He is an unselfish individual so he will make the right decision. I think he has created an environment over time that has empowered the players to be their own judge and jury.
‘He has got everything: experience, know-how and a mentality that if he thinks he has to look out for a player, he will stand up and take the heat for them and on occasion, he can be a tough nut. There are lads who will not be part of an England squad on Thursday for that reason.
‘The players who made the mistake were the first to miss out. In the short term, that might be fine. In the long term, you never know when your next England cap is coming. If someone has taken your place on the pitch who can impress the manager, that would be the biggest punishment that you could possibly have, not to play the game after that and the game after that and so on.
‘It is worth remembering that young players today have an awful lot more to deal with than my generation of footballers. When I got on a coach after a game, I went home and probably didn’t hear any form of criticism about my own performance in the Eighties and Nineties, bar an odd journalist reporting it in a newspaper.
Jack Grealish also starred in the friendly win over Wales for a heavily-changed Three Lions side
Pearce insists that ‘there is no better person’ to lead the nation into the future than Southgate
‘Now, the players have to deal with everything that comes with social media and with the instant and harsh criticism there. It is frustrating for the coaches when you are dealing with things that aren’t football related, that are just nuisances for Gareth, but what goes on around the national team has been shaped brilliantly by him.
‘There is no better person to be at the helm of the England squad to deal with these potential problems. He has empowered the squad. The squad themselves will take responsibility for what has happened. With Harry Kane and the senior players, he will empower them to say how we police this, what do we find acceptable, what are the levels of excellence that we are trying to achieve?’
Pearce has contributed to a good start to the season at West Ham and achieved an unusual kind of prominence as Moyes’s conduit to the team while the manager was isolating with coronavirus. Time and again, the cameras sought him out as he sat in the stands, talking earnestly to the Scot and then relaying his messages to the bench.
For the most part, Moyes managed his absence seamlessly. He had access to a television feed of the pitches at West Ham’s training ground so Pearce and the rest of the coaches knew he was watching as they walked out every morning. Moyes planned each session and conducted meetings with his staff over Zoom.
After retirement, Pearce regularly featured for talkSPORT and delivered leadership lectures
West Ham, with Pearce on their coaching staff, have enjoyed a flying start to the new season
Pearce believes he is ‘fortunate’ due to benefiting from a daily football education from Moyes
There was only one glitch. ‘That was in one of the Carabao Cup games,’ says Pearce. ‘The game wasn’t on television so Dave had a feed of the game but that went down in the second half. The only contact he had was me ringing him or him ringing me, backwards and forwards. I gave him a semi-live commentary. I think he might have been better off tuning in to talkSport. Jim Proudfoot and Sam Matterface would have put a better slant on it than I did.’
West Ham went into the international break on a high after thumping back-to-back victories over Wolves and Leicester and Pearce is cautiously optimistic about the season ahead. ‘We know where we are as a football club,’ he says. ‘We have still got to add to the squad as best we can. The chairman and Dave have been active in bids for players and improving the squad and getting it how Dave wants it to be. We feel as though there is a good nucleus at the club and we are pleased with the way it’s going.
‘I’m fortunate because I’m in a role where I’m working for a manager who makes me feel like I’m getting a football education every day. David is very unselfish and humble and that’s why I enjoy working for him. Gareth is full of those traits. I saw it as a player when we first worked together. You can tell on a football pitch the players that are in it for themselves and the ones that are in it for the group.
‘All the boxes will be ticked for England in the preparation for these Euros and you need all of those things and a bit more. You need confidence on match day, a bit of luck on match day, your tactics right on match day and one or two of your individuals to be world class when that tournament comes about. But we can afford to think of matching at least what we did in ’96. Everything’s there and most importantly, we have got the right man in charge.’
l Never Stop Dreaming: My Euro 96 Story, by Stuart Pearce is published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 15.