Stability over survival: is there more to football than the Premier League?

A Sunday evening social media frenzy gave Leicester City supporters a very real glimpse as to what life would be like without Nigel Pearson at as manager of their football club – and for the majority of those supporters, it was not pretty.

Sky Sports and a number of online newspapers had broken the story last night that Nigel Pearson had been sacked as Leicester City manager.  After several hours of silence, the club released a statement confirming that this was not the case, and that “reports to the contrary [were] inaccurate and without foundation”.  The time in between was agonising for Leicester City and Nigel Pearson supporters, who had to consider the very real prospect of a replacement (and likely to be currently out of work) manager – at this stage of the season.

Nigel Pearson’s altercation with James McArthur during Leicester’s 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday was regrettable and somewhat unsavoury, but it also gave the media – and fans who have been losing patience with Pearson – further ammunition to suggest that it was time for him and the club to part ways.  With upcoming games away at Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City, it seemed believable that Pearson’s departure had been confirmed, until the club issued a report to confirm the opposite.

The reality is that relegation is a very real possibility for Leicester City this season.  In all likelihood, the club needs to win at least five of their remaining fourteen fixtures to stand a chance of maintaining their Premier League status in May.  The Foxes have dropped points against other struggling teams facing a battle for top-flight survival over the next few months (notably at home against Burnley and West Bromwich Albion, and away at Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa).  It could even be argued that a positive FA Cup run has paved over the cracks of a terrible run of results dating back to Leicester’s 5-3 win over Manchester United at the end of September 2014.

There is an argument that Leicester City has the right owners, stadium, facilities and history to be a top flight team.  A number of fans believe that Leicester has a Premier League pedigree, and that the club is currently where they belong.  The truth is that none of that means anything, and you can only consider yourself a Premier League club based on where you are now – not where you were ten to fifteen years ago.  Leicester City has been a Championship club for nine of the last eleven seasons.

But is there more to football than the Premier League?  In this era, many consider any alternative to be unthinkable.  Another reality is that there are only 20 places in the top flight of English football, and not being amongst those 20 places does not necessarily indicate a bad team or a bad manager.  If the Foxes were to get relegated this season, would it really be a smart decision for the club to replace Nigel Pearson, bearing in mind that he is the first manager to achieve promotion with Leicester City – twice – since 2004?  Given Pearson’s experience at Championship level, would he not be the right man to guide Leicester City back to the top flight in a year’s time?

Nigel Pearson could have gone out and spent millions in the transfer window on big-name players in an attempt to improve the club’s survival hopes.  Observers of his tactics in the transfer window will confirm that this is not his style.  There is no guarantee that a desperate spending spree in January would result in a seventeenth-placed finish.  The club would be in a far more precarious position if it were relegated with an additional five Premier League players on their books.  Not only could these types of signings come with baggage and hefty wage requirements, but they come with no guarantee of Championship experience – something this current Leicester City squad has in, and something Nigel Pearson will be very mindful of at this time.

For the first time since the late 1990s, and amidst the highs and lows, Leicester City has achieved something bigger than Premier League status.  It has achieved stability.  And while it may not seem believable to everybody at the moment, Nigel Pearson is the reason for that stability.  Only a minority of clubs can say they have been able to achieve the same in the modern era of football.