Stuart Pearce had a rapid rise to England fame, and reckons his beloved Three Lions ‘have the tools’ to win the World Cup.
You won’t find a bigger England fan than the legendary former left-back, who himself made the jump from supporter to World Cup star in just three years when he played at Italia 90.
His rise to World Cup semi-finalist was unlikely given he was an electrician and played at non-league Wealdstone until 1983, before moving on and earning his first England call-up in 1987 at the age of 25.
“When I first heard I was away with Nottingham Forest,” Pearce, who will be heading to Qatar as part of talkSPORT’s commentary team, told talkSPORT.com.
“I think we were away on a friendly towards the back end of the season and there was speculation I might be called into the squad.
“Then a journalist from a local paper came up to me and said ‘you’re in the England squad’.
“So you didn’t know until the FA sent you a letter which I’ve still got at home now. I mean the honour of it was quite incredible really.”
Aside from holding the memory of his first ever call-up close to his heart, Pearce says being given the captain’s armband in 1992 is the most treasured moment of his career.
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“When Graham Taylor came to my house in Nottingham and said would I be the captain and take over Gary Lineker’s tenure, that was probably the biggest honour bestowed upon me,” he said.
“That was my proudest moment.”
Pearce’s passion for his country has always been clear. It was his battling style of play that earned him his move to Coventry and that stayed with him through his whole career – hence the ‘Psycho’ nickname.
The left-back made 78 England appearances – which would have been higher had he not got injured before Euro 1988, if the Three Lions qualified for the 1994 World Cup and he’d been selected in 1998.
Pearce, though, among other achievements, will be fondly remembered for his role in driving England to the World Cup semi-final where they were beaten by West Germany in Turin.
On that night 32 years ago, Pearce, along with Chris Waddle missed his penalty in the shoot-out but he didn’t let that define his international career.
Six years later, he achieved redemption at Euro 96, scoring a penalty in the quarter-finals against Spain, with his exuberant celebration producing one of football’s most iconic photos. However, that’s not the image he cherishes most.
“I’m not a great lover of having memorabilia in my house,” he explained. “If you walked in the house you wouldn’t know there was anyone associated with sport that lived there.
“But the one picture I have in my house in the office is myself bent over and you can just see the top of my head and my name putting the ball on the penalty spot.
“That’s the only picture I’ve got. Why I like that up there, it symbolises for me firstly that tournament, but more importantly, I wasn’t first pick for two years before I took that penalty.
“So for me to get that 15 seconds of fame, I know the journey I had to go on.”
After that game, England crashed out on penalties again in the semi-final against Germany.
Influenced by his own experience, Pearce played a huge role in consoling the player who missed the deciding penalty – none other than England’s current manager Gareth Southgate.
Now, Pearce doesn’t see why his former teammate can’t take England one step further than Russia 2018 – or his 1990 band of brothers – and reach the final.
“They’ll be there [in the final],” the talkSPORT pundit said.
“If you look at the last 10 years of English football, the women are European champions, in the men’s game they’ve won things at Under-17s, Under-19s, Under-20s, the senior team have been to the semis of the World Cup and the finals of the Euros.
“If they end up winning it, which I certainly think they have the tools to do and the experience to now, everyone will look back and say we saw it coming. Look at the growth that’s gone on since St. George’s Park was built.”
After watching many of England’s 26-man World Cup squad pass through the youth system, Pearce knows just how talented the current crop of players are.
Arsenal star Saka missed the final penalty in the shootout at the Euro 2020 final – but Pearce believes Saka’s response to last summer heartbreak has firmly earnt the youngster his spot at Qatar.
“I think the way Saka played last season after the tournament said a lot about his character, for me he’d be one of the first on the team sheet,” he said.
“He’s done that well for Arsenal and he’s done that well for England when I’ve watched. For me, failure isn’t putting yourself forward and missing, it’s not having the courage to put yourself forward.
“I’ll back anybody who puts themselves forward. I coach young kids and that’s always the message. Don’t be afraid of failure because it teaches you brilliant lessons.”