Ken Way worked at Leicester under Pearson and Claudio Ranieri, but after just one game of this season, he was told by the club that his services were no longer required.
Way was speaking with Irish Examiner sports editor Tony Leen at University College Cork last night at a special lecture event to celebrate 10 years of UCC’s Sports Studies and Physical Education degree programme.
And he insisted the remarkable team spirit that drove the Foxes to the title was embedded during Pearson’s reign.
“I honestly believe Nigel Pearson would have won the title if he stayed,” Way said. “I really feel sorry for Nigel, though I don’t want to take anything from Claudio.” Pearson was removed as manager in the summer of 2015, having saved the club from relegation with a remarkable late run of form.
“We spent 142 days at the bottom of the table. We were nine points from safety. But the team spirit was still there. There was still belief in the boys that we could turn it around. And we did.”
Way described Pearson as a manager who searched for “the right type of characters” as much as talent.
“An awful lot of work he did was away from the training ground. He was interested in the players’ families, their wives and children. He made every player feel loved and valued.
“He expected players to leave their guts on the field. He expected resilience, fight.” Way’s contract was terminated by Leicester after this season’s opening day defeat by Hull.
“I knew there was something weird when the kitman fobbed me off about giving me my kit. So I think some of the staff knew the decision had been made that we no longer needed a sports psychologist. But nobody had the guts to tell me.
“Eventually the director of football rang me and told me. I had texts from a lot of the players saying ‘can’t understand it’, ‘miss you’ etc. But I’m taking it Claudio just didn’t want a sports psychologist any more.”
Way remains a great admirer of Ranieri’s achievement, describing him as “an absolute gentleman” to work with. And he hailed the Italian for nurturing the camaraderie Pearson had built.
“I’ve never ever witnessed the team spirit that Leicester had. Wes Morgan said they would die for each other in the pitch and that social togetherness was working on a level I’d never seen before.
Interestingly, Way feels Leicester didn’t have a traditional leader on the pitch.
“We didn’t have a Roy Keane. Wes Morgan was a leader by example. Robert Huth had a bit of a voice. I actually used to say to Nigel (Pearson) that we could do with more of a Roy Keane.” Since Ranieri was sacked as Leicester slumped towards the relegation zone this season, temporary manager Craig Shakespeare has instigated a remarkable turnaround, winning his first five games as boss and propelling the Foxes back into the Premier League top ten.
Shakespeare was assistant to both Pearson and Ranieri and Way describes him as the “glue that held the club together.” “He is such a funny guy. He always lightened the mood.”
Asked how Shakespeare might have reignited the form of players like Jamie Vardy, Way said: “Vardy is an aggressive player. He does have belief in himself. But sometimes it slips. A lot of players, when things go wrong, it doesn’t take long to question themselves. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I think he started questioning himself, asking can I actually hack this, and it’s Shakespeare who has turned the dial for him.”