Some aspects of Nigel Pearson remain as familiar as ever and you get the sense they always will. The handshake is still robust; the grip not quite so tight as to cut off all blood supply around your knuckles but strong enough to make you understand it is as much a test as a greeting.
The hair style has not changed either. Still short and clipped. The sergeant major look. It comes as little surprise when the former Leicester manager reveals when he was younger he was close to embarking on an assessment to the join the Royal Air Force.
And then there’s his deep love of the outdoors. Most people, by now, know the story of Pearson fighting off a pack of dogs in the Carpathian mountains. The 55-year-old recently spent three days on a small island in Badachro, a fishing village in north-west Highlands of Scotland. No dogs this time, just Pearson ‘mooching about’, staying alone in a bothy with trips back from the pub on a local fisherman’s boat. About as far removed from the intensity of football management as you can find. And just the way Pearson likes it.
Nigel Pearson has been out of football management since OH Leuven sacked him in February
‘Whenever you are out of work, you need to take the opportunity to do things you like to do,’ says Pearson. ‘I know some people immerse themselves in football and go and watch a million and one games. I am a bit the other way. I tend to do the things that I like doing, which is trying to get used to being back at home.’
Pearson is having to do just that having been sacked in February as manager of OH Leuven in Belgium’s second division. Leuven are backed by King Power, the same company who owns Leicester and who also sacked Pearson back in 2015, the season before they won the Premier League title under Claudio Ranieri. Those who know Leicester know that much of that squad and culture had been built by Pearson, over two spells, starting with hauling the club from the depths of League One ten years ago.
What also hasn’t changed is Pearson’s reputation. Not yet, anyway. The former Shrewsbury, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough defender spoke recently to sports journalism students at Birmingham and Derby University and business scholars at Wembley . The youngsters came away surprised at the easy, engaging Pearson in front of them.
‘I am sure they had fixed ideas of what I might be before I walked through the door,’ he says.
There is good reason for that. The back end of this tenure at Leicester, one which saw him keep the club up despite having spent 140 days at the bottom of the table, was marred with a series of high-profile incidents: throttling Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur on the touchline, telling an abusive Leicester fan to ‘f*** off and die’ and, most famously, calling a journalist an ostrich in a post-match press conference.
Pearson spoke with James Sharpe about his career and what he's done away from the game
It is this side of Pearson that does seem a little different now. He is calmer, more relaxed, less snappy in the face of questions which, in a former life, may well have left the interviewer scrambling for a safe zone.
‘Maybe, I’ve changed a bit,’ says Pearson. ‘Yeah, I’m not managing a club and I don’t need a win to keep my job but I also think I’ve changed. We all change.
‘I accept that in that year I was under pressure, from myself too, and I did some things that I’d probably choose not to do again. Not all of them. Some I would gladly do again, actually…and do them with a smile on my face.’ He refuses to say which.
‘Look, I have not become a big softy overnight. I am still me, but in four years, when you experience different things, you have to reflect on what happens in your life.’
Pearson says working in Belgium changed him. It is a different football life over there. Things move much more slowly than in the Premier League and there is also far less scrutiny. It was also a chance to reconnect with former Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Pearson found the whole experience, while ultimately