Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sir Nigel, Returneth

It was almost inevitable. As news broke of Martin O'Neill's rumoured meeting with Vichai and Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn at a golf club near Sutton Coldfield, it was clear that Leicester City were not going to see the return of their messiah. The rumours indeed proved false and Foxes' fans were left for two weeks, wondering who would replace Sven Goran Eriksson in the King Power Stadium hot seat.

The King Power group have pulled off that other massive coup, however, in luring Nigel Pearson back to Leicester City. That was the one that nobody saw coming.

Billy Davies, Dave Jones and Roy Keane - all of whom have tasted success in the Championship - were dismissed. Huddersfield's Lee Clark came closest to securing the job as Sven Goran Eriksson's successor as he was shown around the training ground by the Foxes' owners. But that, it seems, was another red herring as he was never offered the job and, consequently, denied any interest in the position he badly desired.

That Pearson is back is a huge surprise, but then at the same time it really isn't. A man of principle - an honest, quiet and blunt Nottinghamshire man who keeps his cards close to his chest - Pearson, it was assumed, would never go back to the club from which he was ousted to make way for the new Thai regime. But with Milan Mandaric and Lee Hoos - the architects of Pearson's exit from the then Walkers Stadium - now gone, Pearson has a platform to finish what he oh-so-successfully started three years ago.

It was in the summer of 2008 that Pearson - having kept Southampton afloat at the expense of Leicester City - was appointed as manager by Mandaric. Together with assistant Craig Shakespeare and scout Steve Walsh, they put pride back into the Foxes' badge with a stern, meticulous approach that gained results. Walsh's eye for talent saw loanees from Premier League clubs - Jack Hobbs, from Liverpool; Kerrea Gilbert, from Arsenal; Tom Cleverley, from Manchester United - tear apart the third tier. Pearson got the best out of his beleaguered bunch of players, making legends out of until-then mediocre names in the history of the club. From the ashes rose Matty Fryatt, scorer of a massive 32 goals, whilst Andy King surged from the youth squad to take command of the midfield. Under Pearson, Leicester City were a mighty force and the future was bright.

The following season, promoted as champions of League One, a confident and determined Leicester City finished fifth in the league and again it was not star names but hard workers - Richie Wellens, Martyn Waghorn and Matt Oakley - who stood apart. Only a poor penalty kick from a Frenchman called Yann Kermorgant quashed hopes of a return to the Premier League, on that fateful night in Cardiff.

That penalty - and the following one missed, by Waghorn, who lay weeping after a second season in the Championship was confirmed -  saw the end of Pearson's reign and instability return to the club as first Paulo Sousa's foreign stars and Eriksson's England Old Boys fail to display the same passion and dedication that had served Pearson so well.

With Pearson back - and those workhorse names replaced by stars in the face of Matt Mills, Sol Bamba, David Nugent and Jermaine Beckford - Leicester City could once again set the second tier alight. A firm hand from Pearson, a couple of game changing loans from the eyes of Walsh and a renewed patience from the Raksriaksorns, and the Foxes could be back in the big time yet. 
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