Nigel Pearson hits back at Gary Lineker: 'I pay my tax bills'
Leicester City are embroiled in an embarrassing row between the club legend Gary Lineker and Nigel Pearson, the manager. Lineker claimed that Pearson was sacked, then reinstated, while the manager made a withering reference to a disputed allegation about the financial affairs of the former Leicester striker and current vice-president by declaring that “I pay my tax bills”.
Two noxious plot lines, focusing on Pearson’s future and his touchline grapple with Crystal Palace’s James McArthur, have collided to double the drama at the King Power Stadium. This is a public spat which will infuriate the club’s Thai owners, who have made Leicester staff very aware of the high standards of respect and dignity expected.
Pearson was annoyed by the criticism of the McArthur incident on Lineker’s Match of the Day programme on Saturday night. Leicester’s manager disagreed with “everything” pronounced by the “three fountains of knowledge” Lineker, Jermaine Jenas and Danny Murphy.
“I thought they were slightly disruptive,’’ Pearson said. “I don’t care what they think of me. I pay my tax bill. It [the McArthur tussle] is a non-event as far as I’m concerned. It’s not helpful when the three fountains of knowledge on Match of the Day make a mountain out of a molehill. The lad’s OK. It was very light-hearted.”
Pearson’s comments prompted Lineker to retaliate via social media. “We’d best be careful in future, the fella can look after himself,’’ Lineker tweeted caustically, rather forgetting that Pearson once fended off a pack of hungry wolves with a walking stick for five hours while backpacking in the Carpathians.
Far more wounding to Pearson was Lineker’s follow-up haymaker of a tweet in which he replied to a question about whether he was a “fountain of knowledge” with this revealing response: “If I was I’d tell you that he was sacked by one of the owners’ family and reinstated by another, but then I’m not.”
Read more: Nigel Pearson: I'm still in charge of Foxes
The most influential member of the family, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was at the King Power Stadium to see Leicester lose and his most high-profile employee tussle with an opponent. The pair talked in the board-room post-match. It is believed that Vichai considered dismissing Pearson but was eventually dissuaded by his son Top, who was away at the time in Bangkok. Lineker appeared to be insinuating some difference between the pair’s views.
Leicester dispute Lineker’s version of events yet a fog of doubt hangs over Pearson as he takes his team to Arsenal on Tuesday night. Pearson was backed in the transfer window, being given £7 million for Andrej Kramaric, and the commitment to part of the wages of the on-loan Robert Huth. Yet some Leicester staff certainly appeared to believe Pearson was out on Sunday.
“You’ll have your views about the sequence of events,’’ Pearson countered. “My view was I’d always continue to do my job and I’m very happy to do my job.”
He knows there has been talk of the Thais being angered by his conduct towards McArthur, coming on top of his telling an abusive Leicester fan to “f--- off and die”, for which he was punished by the Football Association. “The owners are fine just as they were with the incident with the fan,’’ Pearson said. “I like the people I work with to be loyal and I like to show them loyalty back. The people I work for are not people who seek public attention. I have a good working relationship with them and a very good personal relationship with them as well.”
Pearson has been fortunate that McArthur has eventually played down the incident. After the game on Saturday, Pearson returned to his Sheffield home but decided against watching Match of the Day until the morning.
Sunday was, as he admitted, a strange day. “I don’t like losing games so Sundays when you lose a game are not always easy to deal with. I had a few chats with friends. My lad [James, an under-21 defender at Leicester] came home. We had a chat.
“I’ve had some very strange days in football. You’ll have to wait for the book if it ever comes out. My book wouldn’t be about football.”
Pearson is a fascinating but complex and moody character, equipped with strong values, a wry humour and an antenna twitching at perceived agendas. He would have joined the Armed Forces had he not excelled as a footballer. He focuses on family, occasional TV series, exploring remote places and spending time on his own. “I don’t speak to my neighbours. I’m a miserable bugger.”
On that Sunday he was aware of certain discussions at the club but he felt in control. “The cat was sitting on my knee all afternoon. I was like Blofeld.” At 6.30pm on Sunday, stories emerged that Pearson had been sacked. “I certainly don’t watch 24‑hour sports channels. I was aware of it but didn’t see it.”
Just as Lineker was tweeting that “not surprised Pearson has been fired”, the man himself was on his way to the Greystones, a music venue in Sheffield. It was Canadian folk music night. Pearson went with a friend who had bought the £9 tickets for the (Texan) warm-up act of Ash Gray, who took to the stage at 8pm. They were followed by folk singer-writers Dennis Ellsworth and Amelia Curran, who was touring her new album They Promised You Mercy, which might have struck a chord with Pearson. Or maybe not. “They weren’t very good,’’ was Pearson’s verdict.
Hands on approach: PeArson appeared to throttle the midfielder Photo: ACTION IMAGES
All the while outside the Greystones, the story was gathering pace. Calls were being made between club officials and board members, the situation not helped by the time difference, with Bangkok being seven hours ahead.
It was not until 10.07pm that Leicester released a statement, dismissing reports of Pearson’s exit as “inaccurate and without foundation”. Clearly, though, his future had been discussed, and the board was divided. Asked whether he had been “given any reassurances” about his job, Pearson said: “I’ve had conversations, yes. In an ideal world, I’d rather the story had not got out there but it’s out there and I have to deal with that.”
This was a story with substance, with fire beneath the smoke that some managers were moved to express support. Pearson keeps changing his mobile number but some of his peers were able to voice their backing in a difficult period. “I’m not somebody who is particularly gregarious,’’ Pearson admitted. “My number changes a couple of times a year precisely so people can’t get hold of me which is rather nice. I’m being a bit flippant. Of course I talk to managers. When things happen it is always nice when your peers say something positive or show empathy. The type of industry we work in now, especially in the Premier League, there is more scrutiny. Whether I welcome it, agree with it, or find it intrusive is irrelevant. I’m in a job where I’m going be scrutinised.’’
Pearson has always been his own man, a private individual, sometimes happiest when hiking through some distant mountain range, but he is very aware about the modern player, and particularly for their immersion in digital debate. “You know everyone in their generation is on social media these days,” Pearson said.
So he knew that the players would have been digesting Sunday’s events while he was in that folk club. “I didn’t see anybody with a bottom jaw like that [dropped in astonishment],’’ Pearson reflected of turning up at Leicester’s training ground, Belvoir Drive, on Monday morning. The players sounded ready for training, not for analysing or engaging in banter about the manager’s future. “No gags, no jokes,’’ Pearson observed.
He addressed the players, going briefly through the events of Sunday, telling them he knew what happened, that he was still their manager. “We’re a very tight group, players and staff alike, very supportive of each other. The spirit inside the dressing room remains very, very good.’’
After training, Pearson caught the start of his son’s under-21s game with Norwich City (2-2 finish) and then drove to the King Power Stadium. He held a short briefing with Anthony Herlihy, Leicester’s well-respected head of media, poured himself a cup of tea, and then sat down to face the media music, noting the seven camera crews. “We’ve got a few here today,’’ Pearson said drolly. “Has something happened?”
A natural leader as a player, Pearson then made sure he transmitted a message of being in charge, of business as usual. “I’m looking forward to going home tonight and watching something different on the TV. I’m looking forward to travelling down to Arsenal with the squad tomorrow, performing well, and hopefully winning the game. I think I’ll be on the touchline, in the hinterland of the technical area. I might go and sit with owners. I might split it half and half. I’ve even done the press box before! At Doncaster Rovers and Watford.”
Pearson sought to mix levity with leadership. He achieved that impression, barring his potentially expensive pop at Lineker.
Whether this multi-strand episode, ranging from McArthur to Lineker to stories of his demise, has undermined his authority, Pearson replied: “I would hope not. Everyone I work with would recognise that my role at the club has been the leader and that’s how I intend it to continue. I’m very happy to shoulder responsibility for my football team. This is a club I’ve worked for on two occasions. You think it’s three, but it’s two.”