While Manchester City fans may be drooling over master tactician Pep Guardiola, there was a time in the not-so-distant past that a manager made a call that was beyond comprehension.
With Guardiola, we can tell what he’s trying to achieve. He’s trying to change the game; trying to deliver his signature brand of polished football to the rough-and-ready Premier League turf, and that’s bound to take time.
But on May 16, 2005, Stuart Pearce made the most confusing decision in Premier League history.
It was the final day of the season, and City needed to beat Middlesbrough to snag a place in the UEFA Cup. At 1-1 with two minutes to play (and a subsequent five minutes of stoppage time), instead of throwing on £5 million striker Jon Macken, Pearce went rogue.
He ordered his back-up goalkeeper Nicky Weaver to strip down to his kit and sent him on in place of midfielder Claudio Reyna. He then gave David James an outfield shirt and ushered him forwards, to play up front.
Just let that sink in. With a crucial competitive game to win, Pearce left an actual striker on the bench, and sent a giant goalkeeper into the fray.
Predictably, James looked pretty shabby in his advanced role. In fact, his cumbersome movement, lack of pace and absence of any technical ability only served to make a very average group of City players look pretty bloody capable.
It was a pretty amateur thing to do, and it didn’t work. The game finished 1-1 – despite a missed penalty from Robbie Fowler – and Boro made it into Europe.
But Pearce had his reasons for playing a goalkeeper with zero experience of playing outfield as a striker. Unfortunately, those reasons don’t make a jot of sense.
“I sat at home on Saturday night and thought to myself: ‘What shall I do if we’re drawing the game late on and need to hit it long?'” explained Pearce. “I’ve got a good striker in Jon Macken, who is really disappointed, but I wanted to unsettle them and in some ways it did. It unsettled everyone . . . them and us.”
So, Man City fans, next time you’re wondering what Guardiola’s thinking when he plays Pablo Zabaleta in midfield, or Aleksandar Kolarov at centre-half, count to ten and remember the most absurd decision in Premier League managerial history.