A day after the sudden departure of fan favourite Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce was appointed Manchester City manager on 11th March 2005 until the end of that campaign and remained in charge for the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. Chairman John Wardle appointed Pearce under the recommendation of Kevin Keegan who felt he was unable to take the team any further.
Pearce had already left Carrington when Keegan had resigned only to be called back by Wardle to offer him the job. The former England captain guided City through the final nine games of the season. A 2-1 away defeat to Tottenham in April would prove to be the club’s only league defeat as they went in pursuit of European football.
This run of form resulted in Pearce collecting the manager of the month award and became only the second City manager to do so. Alan Ball previously won the award during his time in charge at Maine Road during the 1995-1996 season which saw the club relegated.
The domestic cups were won by Arsenal and Chelsea this season meaning the 7th place opened up a chance for UEFA Cup football. On the final day at home to Middlesborough, City would have achieved this for the following season if they beat ‘Boro. A last minute penalty miss by Robbie Fowler resulted in a 1-1 draw, and it was ‘Boro who qualified for the UEFA Cup and not the blues.
Despite missing out on European football, the season ended on a more positive note than previously expected. Pearce was appointed full-time Manager three days before the end of the season, on a three-year contract.
The summer of 2005 proved a difficult one for the club financially as they were forced to sell star player Shaun Wright-Phillips to Chelsea for a club record selling fee of £21 million. The departure of Wright-Phillips deeply saddened the fans and the player, but Pearce later confirmed in an interview in 2014 that if the club had not sold Wright-Phillips at the time, administration or bankruptcy may have followed due to the club’s debts.
Andy Cole and Darius Vassell were signed in the close season for a combined fee of £2 million, and a brilliant partnership developed throughout the season. By the end of November, City were firmly in contention for Europe despite the lack of financial backing.
It was during this time that England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson announced his decision to resign as England manager after the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and Pearce was mentioned as a possible replacement for Sven despite his lack of experience.
January saw the club back Pearce in the transfer market once again. £6 million was paid to Heerenveen for the services of Georgios Samaras. Albert Riera was also recruited to help the push for Europe.
However, 2006 saw the wheels well and truly come off the bus. A derby victory over United proved to be the only highlight in a poor run. Away from home, Pearce was unable to stop the rot and the club would lose seven of their next eight league games away from the City of Manchester Stadium.
Pearce was starting to lose the respect of many of the fans now, and by the end of the season City would finish in disappointing fashion, in 15th place after losing nine of the last ten games – a major disappointment following the successful start to the season. A League Cup defeat to Doncaster Rovers and a home loss in the F.A. Cup quarter-final to eventual finalists West Ham saw City comprehensively fail to end their thirty-year trophy drought.
Little to no expectations were held by the majority of fans leading into the 2006-2007 season with all their new recruits signed on free transfers except for youngster Joe Hart. Didi Hamann, Ousmane Dabo and Bernardo Corradi were all signed on free transfers as Pearce aimed to bring experienced players to the club.
Fans admired Pearce’s honesty, however, hopes of finally achieving a top-six finish as promised by the club’s board soon became a distant dream. Many records were broken in this season including going the first eight games unbeaten, a new record for the club.
A lack of goals resulted in Pearce struggling to create a run of form to push up the table. The best run came at the turn of the year in three wins over Christmas, and an F.A. Cup run. The season proved one of inconsistency as City went many games unbeaten followed by continuous runs of winless games.
By mid-March, the club lay just above the relegation zone, and the situation looked bleak. Financial matters off the pitch didn’t help the situation as Pearce struggled without the backing of his board in the transfer market.
City continued to play a brand of football that saw them score just ten goals at home throughout the season and none after New Year’s Day in – a record low in top-flight English football.
Defeats to lower league opposition for the fourth season in a row in domestic cup competitions saw the team continue to struggle in the quest to end their trophy drought. Chesterfield were City’s conquerors this time in the League Cup. An F.A Cup defeat in the quarter-finals to Blackburn Rovers meant that City’s sole focus by the middle of March was on survival.
A training ground fight between Joey Barton and Ousmane Dabo added to Pearce’s woes and City were fortunate to avoid relegation. Following a disastrous end to the season the club saw it necessary to replace Pearce and ironically Eriksson, the man he was tipped to replace at England, would follow him at City.
City defender Danny Mills who fell out with Pearce believes his former boss was shown the door because of his poor record in the transfer market.
“As a manager, you’re judged on results, and if they are just okay, you get judged on your signings – and they weren’t fantastic,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.
Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Pearce on July 6th 2007