Motherwell: Stephen Pearson wants an Indian summer
Unlike so many footballers returning from short spells abroad, Stephen Pearson does not consider the move to have been ill-fated. He grabbed the opportunity to play in the nascent Indian Super League with both hands, scoring the winner in a cup semi-final and meeting a sporting deity in Sachin Tendulkar.
What is there not to like about such rich experiences on the subcontinent? It could, however, make a return to Motherwell, where he started his career, seem slightly humdrum by comparison. But he knows he has work to do to make up for the sourness prompted by his departure 11 years ago to Celtic.
Some fans turned against him in the weeks leading up to his £350,000 transfer to Martin O’Neill’s side in 2004, complaining his head was turned by the speculation.
“You want to be well thought of at all the teams you represent,” Pearson, now 32, reflected yesterday. He isn’t disputing his departure was poorly-handled.
“It was out of my hands, it was an agent that was pushing it,” he explained. “And when you’re young you’re a bit naive and don’t have experience of these things. Hopefully I can repay the fans by putting in good performances between now and the end of the season.”
That the Parkhead side should form the opposition as he prepares to make his second Motherwell debut is a typical quirk on the crazily-paved path of football – and Pearson’s career has been as crazily-paved as anyone’s. Derby County, Stoke City and Bristol City might not be anyone’s idea of exotic destinations. But Kochi, on the banks of the Arabian sea, is somewhere worth sending a postcard back from.
Perason has just returned from a productive spell playing for Kerala Blasters, who are based in the city in south-west India. Pearson was recruited by former England goalkeeper David James, with whom he was team-mates at Bristol City.
But the real star at the club is not a footballer. Rather, it is co-owner Tedulkar, considered to be the world’s greatest cricketer before his retirement in 2013.
In a country where cricket is almost regarded as a religion, any attempt to ride on its coat-tails can be considered bold.
But Pearson is happy to report that the inaugural season of the Indian Super League was a success. Whatever the crowd tonight at Parkhead, there will not be as many as the 62,000 who watched Pearson play in a first leg cup semi-final victory over Chennaiyin FC late last year.
Pearson scored the winner in the second leg, against a side including Mikael Silvestre and Alessandro Nesta.
As a memory, it is up there with defeating France in Paris, which Pearson did in one of his ten caps for Scotland.
“Originally the season was only 10-12 weeks, and there were only eight teams,” explained Pearson, with reference to the football revolution in India. “Now it has been extended to ten teams and the season is up to six months. Gradually they are hoping to build it up over the next few years.
“They are planning to base it on the cricket and try and get that feeling.
“Obviously it will be difficult to match the cricket because that is massive. But, if they can get anything close to it, then it will be successful.”
As for Tendulkar’s influence, Pearson is under no illusion. “I am sure most of our fans were coming to see him rather than us!” he said. “He put his name behind our franchise and came in to have a chat with the lads before and after games.”
After losing in the final against Atletico de Kolkata, Pearson and his team-mates, including fellow Scot Jamie McAllister, were comforted by Tendulkar. “He spoke to us after it and shared his experiences over the years and said that, as in every other sport, you have to come back stronger after such disappointments. It was a great help to the lads.”
But now Pearson’s mind is on Motherwell, and scoring the goals he hopes will help earn him a place back in the affections of the fans. “It’s imperative we stay in the league,” he said. Despite a spell in what some may regard as a football backwater in India, he believes Motherwell are welcoming back an improved player.
“I would be confident enough to say I’m a better player now than I was back then,” he said. “You’re raw, energetic and have no thought process as to what you’re doing – you’re just doing it. But I’ve since played in England at a fairly high level so I’d like to think I’ve got the experience to see me well this season.”
Manager Ian Baraclough confirmed that Pearson’s international clearance has come through and he is included in the squad for tonight, with third-bottom Motherwell hoping to arrest a run of three consecutive defeats.
A stint training at the club in the summer, prior to his departure for India, means Pearson, who has signed until the end of the season, already knows the majority of the players. Keith Lasley and Steven Hammell, meanwhile, date back to Pearson’s first spell at the club, when administration saw youngsters pushed into the first-team.
The extent Celtic have moved on since Pearson’s time at the club is illustrated by the fact no-one still there. “It’ll be a strange feeling going back but that’s what I’m here for and it just so happens my first game will be at Celtic,” shrugged Pearson. “It’s just another game for me. I’m a Motherwell player now and I want to do my best for them.”