In 2007 he coached the team to a semi-final place in the U21 European Championship, only penalties stopping the England team reaching the final and giving Pearce a real shot at success. In 2009, he went one step better, getting the England U21s to the final, where they were comprehensibly beaten 4-0 by the Germans, a foreshadowing of the senior team's future. In 2011, in a similar story to the 2013 tournaments, they were knocked out at the group stage. So Pearce's record as U21 manager on the "big" stage stands at two successful tournaments and two very poor showings.
There was a time where Pearce was considered a genuine real contender to be the next England manager when Capello left. Indeed, in 2008 he was given a coaching role in the senior side, he coached the Great Britain side at the Olympics and in February 2012, after Capello resigned he did manage England, albeit for one friendly before the appointment of Roy Hodgson.
Since then, he has been fairly successful with the England U21s. Before the game against Italy, they hadn't conceded a goal since November 2011, they had been unbeaten for 9 games before the loss against Italy. However nobody will remember how teams perform in qualifying, it's what they achieve in the main tournament that really counts. Pearce's U21s were embarrassing. Stuart Pearce himself described the team as "awful", and they really were. Against Italy they were soundly beaten, even if the 1-0 scoreline didn't suggest so. Against Norway, the scoreline did reflect the major issues with Pearce's U21s as they were thrashed 3-1 and created very little.
A lot of the lack of success can arguably be put down to there being such a small pool of players to choose from, in a recent article from the BBC it was revealed that English under-21s playing in the Premier League has hit a new low: "according to research by the CIES Football Observatory, when English under-21s are considered, the figure [minutes played by under-21s] falls to 2.28% for last season, the lowest it has ever been." Pearce cannot be blamed for this, the FA and the Premier League are not known to cooperate well with each other and clubs have become increasingly hostile of international football. However, this is a feeble excuse, the pool of players, while small is not low on quality. Players like Zaha, Butland, Caulker and Henderson are generally quite highly rated, they've all commanded big fees in the past or have had a lot of experience at Premier League level or at the top end of Championship football. The whole squad is actually very talented, filled with names that are recognisable and players that at club level or having some success.
Another issue is that Pearce is arguably being hampered by the senior England side who prise his under-21s from him before the sees them as ready. Just today Pearce was criticising Walcott for not making more of the U21 side and focusing on the senior side, players like Jones, Welbeck and Oxlade-Chamberlain were all selected for the England senior side for two, ultimately meaningless, friendlies rather than being used in the competition. Other players like Sterling, Jenkinson, Zaha have all had full international call ups while being eligible for the U21s. Stuart Pearce should not be allowed to use this as an excuse, his role as England U21 manager is to hone players for the senior side, he cannot complain when this happens.
The truth is that Pearce hasn't been good enough in this international tournament and the FA should not be afraid of moving on from him, the qualifying stage of the competition was completed with style and success but Pearce should be judged on the actual tournament. If a senior England manager had managed these performances, he would be sacked. Pearce has failed to even have England be at all competitive on the main stage, out after two games, comprehensibly beaten in both games. His past success with the U21s should be remembered, but it shouldn't let him keep his job. He has become stale and it will be healthy for a new manager to be brought in.
This leads however onto a totally new question as to who? Who can be brought in to take over what has ended in shambles? The papers will be filled with possibilities if Pearce, as expected, goes.
Glenn Hoddle is a manager that some have called for to get the job. Having managed England in the late 90s he has experience with international football and right now hasn't had a managerial job for a long time, preferring to focus on punditry and, perhaps crucially, his academy. Hoddle is somebody who likes to play stylish football and has a desire to do something special with youth football. However could his disastrous end to his England reign ruin his chances? Hoddle was known for strange choices and theories and eventually was forced out of the job for claiming that disabled people were being punished for their transgressions in a previous life.
Gary Neville is another mooted option, given a role in the senior England coaching set up by Roy Hodgson he has had a new lease of life as a pundit for Sky and is often cited as one of the most sensible pundits in the country. His coaching with England isn't something that has been widely reported on, either negatively or positively, but with a wealth of experience at both club and international level, as well as his much reported punditry skills, it is likely he has been a good coach. The questions are; 1) whether he can make the step up from coach to manager and 2) whether he would want to. He's currently got a quite cushy job as a pundit with Sky, which he would surely have to leave if he was to become the full time manager of the England U21s. Neville has said he wants to go back into football full time again in the future, but is the England U21 job really that attractive of a prospect?
Phil Neville, if not Gary, why not Phil? The less successful of the Neville brothers was brought in by Pearce to coach the U21s specifically for this competition. However, it's hard to suggest any blame should fall at his door. On the other hand, perhaps using somebody with experience, albeit a very small amount, of the England U21 set up would not upset the balance but allow the gradual changes to take hold. Phil has recently announced his retirement as a player so announced he wants to go into coaching so will be in high demand, as well as this, the papers are still reporting that Moyes is interested in bringing Phil Neville with him to United, and perhaps a return to the club where he made his name, to coach with the manager that gave him a big helping hand in his career would be a more attractive prospect than the England under-21s managerial job.
These are just three names that have been mooted in some places, but there of course a wealth of other options. It would be very surprising if the new manager is not English, I'd also be surprised if they go for somebody currently in a managerial job as the FA would have to fork out compensation or having the manager do both jobs which opens him and the FA up to scrutiny too easily. That suggests that an out of work manager, a coach or even a pundit will be brought in.
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