Nigel Pearson the escapology master has taken his magic touch to Watford
No club in the Premier League has taken more points since the manager arrived at Vicarage Road
It is the kind of a new-manager bounce Jose Mourinho must have dreamed about. Since the mid-season appointment registered his first win, his team have the most points in the Premier League. Except the catalyst is not Mourinho, but Saturday's opponent.
When Watford kicked off against Manchester United on December 22, they had the fewest points in the division. Since then, no one can match their haul of 13. More than half of Watford’s goals and points for the season came in a five-game, three-week burst of brilliance.
It feels like vindication for the Pozzo family’s hire-and-fire policy. Nigel Pearson is Watford’s third manager of the season, brought in after Quique Sanchez Flores came and went in 85 days.
Enter Pearson, sacked by OH Leuven when they were second from bottom of the Belgian second division last year but a man with a PhD in escapology. Indeed, he likes to escape from it all. He missed Watford’s initial call because he was out walking in the Peak District. Had he not rung back, he would be in India now. The plan was to drive 9,000 miles in a rickshaw. Instead, he is accelerating up the table.
He spent some of last summer in a bothy near the fishing village of Badachro in north-west Scotland, a place so remote he had to get there on the local fisherman’s boat.
It was not his most famous holiday: he once had to fight off wild dogs he encountered while hiking in the Carpathian mountains. “Life is about perspective,” Pearson once said, though it is not advice he has always heeded.
But he is a contradictory character, a man with a fondness for solitude who has galvanised a group. “We just needed somebody to stick a rocket up us,” said goalkeeper Ben Foster earlier this month. Captain Troy Deeney managed to make Pearson sound still more like a throwback. “For the first time in eight years I have been treated like a proper man,” said the striker.
All of which may be damning Pearson with faint praise; so, too, Deeney’s description of stripping Watford “back to basics.” They have had less possession, beating United and Wolves with just 36 per cent of the ball, but done more with it, averaging more shots.
A gameplan has been based around defensive solidity, quick counter-attackers on the flanks, in Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr, and a physical focal point in attack, in Deeney. Pearson’s Watford have had such resolve that they have twice triumphed with 10 men.
“If he had a foreign last name we would all be saying he is the messiah,” said Deeney this week. If that was hyperbolic, Pearson’s reputation is more as enigma than messiah. He was monosyllabic in his first spell at Leicester City.
In his second, he developed the more measured, deliberate approach to answers he deploys today. Except he became better known for branding a reporter an ostrich in a bizarre incident that did Pearson few favours.
He laid the groundwork for Leicester’s title win, though if recruitment was excellent, hindsight suggests he often selected the wrong team and underachieved grievously to take just 19 points from the first 29 games in 2014-15. Yet the final seven produced 22 in a stunning salvage job. It was not his first.
His Southampton side kicked off the last game of the 2007-08 season in the Championship relegation zone, went a goal down and came back to win with 10 men.
His Carlisle team stayed in the Football League in 1999 courtesy of a last-day, injury-time goal from his goalkeeper, Jimmy Glass. By his standards, Watford’s comeback has come early in the campaign. There will be few complaints at Vicarage Road, though.
Updated: January 17, 2020 09:04 AM