Nigel Pearson: ‘Watford’s statement was disrespectful but I’ve moved on’

Nigel Pearson: ‘Watford’s statement was disrespectful but I’ve moved on’


joined Watford with a very clear understanding that what might happen might not be clear,” says Nigel Pearson, recalling the emotions that followed his surprise sacking in July, having hauled them three points clear of the Premier League relegation zone with two games to play.

The club confirmed his departure in a pithy 49-word statement. “I don’t expect people to write me a wonderful epitaph but I thought it was very disrespectful. Having said that, I moved on very quickly. It’s not scarred me.”

Pearson says it how it is and, while he makes clear he was upset and initially shocked, on the day he was dismissed there were telltale signs his reign, which included beating Manchester United and halting Liverpool’s unbeaten run, was coming to an abrupt end.

“By the time I had got a missed call and rang the person [Filippo Giraldi, the technical director] who rang me, and said: ‘You’re not ringing to sack me, are you?’ it was clear, and I’d already rung Craig [Shakespeare, his assistant] to say: ‘By the way, I’ve got a missed call and I’ve been stopped from going into the training ground by the security guards, already.’ I rang Shakey and said: ‘Look, I think we’re in trouble here but I’ll ring you back in 10 minutes.’ I did, and we’d been sacked.”

He says he half-expected such volatility – his exit led Watford, who went on to be relegated, to appoint Vladimir Ivic their 13th permanent manager in nine years – but there are more layers to Pearson, a philosophical character, than football. We touch on everything from Marcus Rashford’s inspirational work to the Peak District and paddle boarding but begin by discussing health.

Pearson contracted coronavirus in the spring and the effects laid him low for some time, with heart problems coming to light during the Premier League restart, but the 57-year-old says he is far healthier now than when in the thick of the relegation battle. “I feel OK, I think I look all right,” he says, smiling.

Pearson has been keeping busy. He has contributed towards the Football Association’s new diversity code and continues to make the most of the scenery on his doorstep near Ivybridge in Devon, home for much of the past few months. Time out from management previously translated into hiking trips across the Highlands and Transylvania, where he had a hairy encounter with a pack of wild dogs, but recent weeks have been rather more serene.

“Just along the way here there are some stables and some friends of ours go horse riding a lot and I said: ‘Well, any chance?’ I went for a couple of hours the other week and it was great. Hopefully, I will get back out there again – hopefully on the moors –but I think you have to be a bit more proficient than I am.”

Nigel Pearson on the touchline during Watford’s game against Newcastle in July.

He commends Rashford but concurs that the game has not always covered itself in glory in recent months. Premier League clubs spent more than £1bn in the transfer window while many teams lower down the pyramid continue to live hand to mouth. “What we’ve probably got to do is try to stave off capitulation of football clubs and leagues in particular; I think the time to recalibrate is when it’s all over. But stories like Bury going bust, Macclesfield going bust, don’t sit easy with me.

“I know because of my son James and his involvement with Macclesfield, and my involvement in regard of being the Watford head coach and being involved in Premier League meetings, the disconnect and the lack of empathy in terms of connection with what the bigger picture is. There may be more casualties; I’m surprised that there haven’t been more … It would feel better to live in a world where there was a bit more understanding of what it means for people who are slightly less [well] off.”

In March he said he had a “love-hate relationship” with football and asked whether the way things ended at Watford had swung the pendulum more one way than the other, he elaborates on that comment. “I should probably quantify it with ‘and myself,’ in the sense it is a little bit like that.

“Has it pushed it [one way more than the other]? Actually, with a little bit of hindsight and a bit of time, I’ve got a lot of warmth towards the people. I spoke to a couple of staff members last night. We didn’t really talk about the club. We talked about them, families, how they were etc. It wasn’t really about football. It was more about them, contacts, etc. Maybe I’m getting a bit of a softie, I don’t know.”

He grins. Pearson is open-minded but, whatever’s next, he will be wholehearted in his approach. “I can’t do things half-measure. I don’t do things half-measure,” he says. “It’s really important for me to commit to something. I’ll only really know when either an opportunity comes along or if I feel that grab inside myself. It quite literally could be anything … apart from mucking the stables out. I’m not doing that!”