The full transcript as Nigel Pearson discusses Middlesbrough, Bristol City club strategy, performances and more

Every word from the pre-Middlesbrough press conference as the Robins manager spoke to BBC Radio Bristol, Bristol Live, and Bristol World.
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We’ll start if that’s okay with team news: how’s the squad looking ahead of the weekend? Max went off injured on Sunday. How’s he coping?

He won’t be available this weekend. Yeah, so that’s an opportunity for Dan. To come back in. So yeah, it’s unfortunate for Max but that’s the way it is.

What’s the injury for Max?

He had a dead leg. Heavy knock on his thigh and he had swelling in the knee too. So he’ll be out this week.

I guess it’s the bonus of having two good goalkeepers. Dan can come in and show you what he can do...

We know what Dan can do. He’s a very experienced goalkeeper. And we said before we’re very lucky to have goalkeepers, two goalkeepers with a lot of ability and different qualities too so he comes straight back in.

Max aside is everyone else. Okay. And I’m assuming no one else is available? Who hasn’t been available in recent times?

We’re more or less as we were, we don’t have full availability of course but the players will train well this week and it will be a tough game but we’re looking forward to it.

Dan Bentley will return to between the sticks at the weekendDan Bentley will return to between the sticks at the weekend
Dan Bentley will return to between the sticks at the weekend

With respect to what you said like 15 minutes after the full time whistle on on Sunday, having had the week to reflect on Swansea, how do you look back at the game and maybe just the season in general?

In the same way, we continue to cause ourselves problems. Yeah, it’s from being in a winning position. We ended up losing the game through poor errors. And so I haven’t changed my stance on that.

Will your team selection on Saturday reflect the  disappointments of the performance on Saturday?

You’ll have to wait and see won’t you, I mean, I don’t believe in broadcasting what I’m going to do. But the selection process is always done with what is best for the team. Simple as that. So individuals egos don’t really come into it I’m afraid.

And it’s a cliche question, have you had a reaction from the players, but just in terms of communication, have they communicated with you and how important is communication when you are looking to improve your defensive record?

The players are very, very aware of what our problems are but unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of players who are at full tilt and have been all season.

They are sometimes found wanting in terms of quality as much as anything. It’s not a case of looking for a different way of framing it just because I’m talking to the media: we are where we are and that’s pretty straightforward.

In my eyes, we’ve had some really good performances, we’ve had some strong real development with individuals within the squad this year. But of course, it’s got some important players missing who give a bit more balance.

You know, those things together just mean you got to be a bit more creative with how how things are selection, for instance, it’s difficult to freshen up for instance.

When our players are going through a tough time and they’re not capable of dealing with it. At the moment I don’t have too many options. But I’ve said to you before that sometimes players have to play through and that in itself is quite a big ask for some of them.

We will do as we always do, prepare as well as we can and hopefully play with a freedom that we’ve also shown in over the last two to three months. I think the team’s played pretty well. The results haven’t always reflected performance but that’s life.

Yeah. How important is it that you don’t lose that freedom and that attacking flair that really has come on in the last month?

I’m not I’m not going to I’m not going to mess with areas of the team which are functioning well. No chance I’m not weakening. Where we’ve been very strong just to try and fill the gaps in other areas of the pitch. No, not doing that. So I mean, look, we’ve scored I think at the moment as it stands, we’ve scored four less goals than the whole total of last year somebody told me so, you know, we are certainly a more potent force. But unfortunately, we just, we were not tight enough defensively and haven’t been. And, you know, so that’s our Achilles heel I’m afraid.

Not necessarily Saturday. But as the season progresses, you’ve got youngsters like Robbie and Duncan, who made an appearance on the bench on Sunday, would you consider giving them opportunities? Or do you have to be careful with their development?

You’ve just answered it. Yeah, you’ve got you’ve got to be very, very careful. And I think, I think it’s, it’s not just about giving youngsters opportunities. A part of my job is to try and judge the challenge for youngsters. So I think it will be unfair to blood players in a way when when the team’s not getting the results that we want. So for instance, last season at the end, we had no alternative. And, and so for a number of our young players, they made the debuts but and  did well for the most part. That is a risk. And you can sometimes do damage to young players by exposing them at a time that’s inappropriate. But, you know, it’s a choice we’ve made that we go with a smaller squad. I think one of the real positives of this season is our assets are younger assets are very good assets. So don’t underestimate them.

Middlesbrough under Chris Wilder: how impressed have you been with them? I think it’s one defeat in 13. And what challenges will they provide you on Saturday?

They’ll attack a lot down their right-hand side, they play a similar way to Sheffield United when Chris was there. I know Chris pretty well and he’s a good manager. He’s got them moving in the right direction.

It’ll be a tough game. I think Chris will expect it to be a tough game for his team too, because we are a very capable side.

Pearson believes Middlesbrough will play a similar way to Sheffield United when under Chris WilderPearson believes Middlesbrough will play a similar way to Sheffield United when under Chris Wilder
Pearson believes Middlesbrough will play a similar way to Sheffield United when under Chris Wilder

It’s important that we play to our strengths as well and selection might be an interesting one this weekend, but I shan’t be divulging it but it will be an interesting decision making process this weekend.

And finally, it’s a special day for the club with the Ashton Gate Eight, Nigel, in attendance. What does that mean to you to have them  there in person? You know, you’ve obviously heard a lot about them, but you’ll get to meet them.

I’ve read up quite a bit on on the background of it as well. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet some of them tomorrow if the storm coming in doesn’t prevent that. What does it mean? Well, both sides actually have a very similar story of Middlesborough in ‘86, and ourselves in ‘82, came very close to liquidation, which is a very sobering thought.

So I tend not to think of it as being a celebration, I think it’s more of a having an appreciation of what our history is, and how close we were to basically folding. Think I’ve said before, as well about it wasn’t a straightforward process for the guys involved.

It was a very difficult time for them individually. The money in football today was certainly not like that back then. And so you know, it’s a huge decision for many of them to make and for all of them to make and we can be very thankful for what they did. And that’s really what it is. And I think it’s important that we that we show our appreciation in public. I would imagine both sets of fans will see the poignancy behind what happened. But we’ve got to concentrate on the game as well. So I will be looking forward to meeting the guys. But that apart it’s focusing very much on the game.

I’m just picking up on something you said when you said players going full tilt. Do you mean players you necessarily wouldn’t be playing? Is that in terms of minutes?

Yeah. Okay. So just to give you a greater understanding what I mean by that is, players playing without experience of this level on a regular basis. I think that’s, that’s something that we were or I am conscious of, and not to make allowances for. But I’m aware of what the potential pitfalls of that are.

And so even players who can people like Rob Atkinson, who’s had a, you know, if you like, an interesting route to the championship, this is his first year at this level, and players who are very accomplished at playing at this level, it’s easier to cope with the demands of it or, or less. Less wearisome. Let’s put it like that on a psychological level.

So, yeah, I think we’re I I think, for the most part, our players have coped very, very well with the demands of what the situation is. What we’ve not been able to do is, is secure the number of points that we should have done by now but I think we’ve, you’ve written a lot about that and we’ve spoken a lot about that throughout the season. So it’s a part of it that I as a manager have to have to factor in. And it will, it will have an influence on on the recruitment moving forward.

As in bringing in more ready players?

Yeah, I mean, that there’s got to be changes this this summer, you know, this is going to be an important window for us the next one that opens. So yeah, it’s going to be important that we, that we strengthen in the right ways.

You touched on psychology there, and just take it back to Sunday. I’m sure you don’t want to dwell on it at all. But when you mentioned about, you know, you can’t install a sense of desire in players to keep on. But are there any tools that can help that in terms of psychology?

There’s loads of tools in terms of psychology, and I’m not a professional psychologist, but anybody in a leadership or management role, is a practitioner of psychology. But I said, what I said after the game, and I stand by exactly what I said. What you can’t give people is a hunger and desire.

And the players that do have a real hunger and desire, they’re doing ever so well. So, so some of our younger players who have broken into the side, and they’re actually performing at a very high level, consistently, that says something about not just their technical ability, it tells you something about their characteristics as people which will be the one thing which gets them further in the game.

So, you know, you will have seen over the years here, other clubs players, with immense technical ability, but the one thing that they will stand against them is if they’ve got a flawed character. I’ll tell you this, I spend an awful lot of time, and we all do here, spend an awful lot of time and invest a lot of time in trying to develop the players on as not just technical players but as efficient footballers and spend a lot of time talking to them trying to develop different sides of them. But the bottom line is that - and I’ve said it on numerous occasions - I’m not spoon-feeding anybody.

Because if, for instance, players are always needy, then at some point you’re going to, you’re wasting your time. My time is invested in other people. And I won’t dwell on that at all. So even if it’s players that I bring in myself, I’m not, you know, I don’t differentiate between players already here or players that you bring in, they are either are up for the challenge, and want to do something about it themselves. Or they don’t and if they don’t, see ya.

Has that changed with certain players, as in have players who appeared to have that sense of desire, hunger, however you want to sort of frame it at the start of the season?

I don’t know. Because I don’t know what you’re thinking in terms of...

I’m just wondering if, I mean, I could name names, but I don’t want to, I’m not sure you’re going to respond to that necessarily. But okay, but have players changed? Or  your perception of them?

Not massively. No, not really, I think what you get is, I’m a big believer in giving people opportunities. But it’s up to people to grasp and maximise opportunity.

Our job then is to make sure that the, whatever pathway is open for them, or is right for them, is that we support them along them. But what we don’t do is we then do it for them.

You know, again, some of the younger players who were in our side at the moment, you look at people like Alex Scott, and Han-Noah Massengo, just to name two, and I could name others as well. Han-Noah has been through a really tough run of form where he never hid, so his shortcomings as a player you don’t see or not as visible because he’s prepared to keep working.

Players have different levels of ability, but they can still be affected by his game and that comes with experience. I’ve said before that the best coaches are players. So we do have some very good senior players who spend a lot of time helping their younger colleagues out and I think that’s really good.

We’re asking an awful lot of our youngsters week in, week out, but I think they’re up to it. So I’m not really too bothered about that. I don’t have a concern about that, I know that our assets are worth a lot more now than they were this time last year.

Most definitely. That that characteristic, then the sort of the intangible mental characteristic, is that the fundamental flaw to the defensive issues, or are their technical problems you have back there as well.

It’s debatable, it’s debatable and my opinion might not be shared by all the staff. But that’s not really important. Because what is important is that we continue to try and help the players to develop themselves.

My aim is not to develop players, my aim is to help them develop themselves in a structured way. You know, we’re not the academy, once you get into the first team, the environment, the, if you like the ground rules changed somewhat, and the players are aware of that.

They absolutely grasp it. And they’re not afraid of it either. It’s no way a criticism to say that what we have to here... and we do have a very good connection with our academy. I would say it’s probably of all the clubs that I’ve worked with it’s the closest association I’ve ever had as a first team manager or coach working with an academy and I think it’s a refreshing change.

I think the chances of us continuing to produce players is going to be good.

But we’ll need to because we’ve got ourselves into a mess as a football club by having a previous strategy to build in a squad and that is spending too much money and then having to sell to stay viable, which is bonkers.

I mean, who does that? I mean, now hopefully, we’ll get to a point where our wage bill is manageable and we still create players who will be great for us. I never intend to stop a player’s long-term ambitions of playing in the Premier League.

Our aim is still to get there. It might take longer than we’d hoped but what’s really important at the moment is we get the foundations right, because the foundations haven’t been right.

Because that’s that that that method policy process or even want to call it, there’s obviously a lot of the the board still remain and the Lansdown family still remain, does how you want to run the club does that chime....?

I’m not a control freak. I’m a part. I’m a part of the football club. Richard who is now the CEO, we try to work very hard and try and collaborate so that we can find the right way to go.

We don’t agree on everything and I wouldn’t want to agree on everything. But what we have to do is make sure that firstly, our immediate future is okay. That’s the first thing and outside of that what is vital for us as a football club, is that we don’t put our..... I mean, we talked already about the Ashton Gate Eight and the very fact that we were nearly into liquidation and we are very heavily in debt at the moment.

We’ve got to be very, very mindful of what our future looks like in terms of the progression, the steps that we take to make sure that we can be a successful team and a successful club because that’s what we want to be.

Matty James, we haven’t had an update on Matty James for a while...

Matty is pain free now. Hopefully, we’ll start to load him next week, maybe. So, yeah, with a bit of luck we’ll have him  for the last 10 games of the season, something like that.

Sorry, loading you mean integrating with the first team?

Sorry to use, yes, it’s not really one of my terms, is it? He’ll start to start to train in some format, let’s put it in the old fashioned way.

‘I think he’s a fantastic player’ - Pearson on Andi Weimann‘I think he’s a fantastic player’ - Pearson on Andi Weimann
‘I think he’s a fantastic player’ - Pearson on Andi Weimann

On Andi Weimann, we’re speaking to him later. But last week, it was revealed that he’s third in regards to goal contributions, this season’s goals and assists, what kind of player is he different from last season? Because this is obviously his record season.

He wasn’t a fit when I was here last year. Look, I’ve worked with Andi before. When I had a brief stint at probably the nicest way of putting, a very brief stint at Derby, which didn’t work out particularly well, for various reasons, but we won’t go down that in the public domain.

And unfortunately Andi got injured very early on in my time there but from what I’ve seen in preseason, he’s is the type of player that every manager really wants in the sense that his appetite for work is incredible and what really pleases me this season for him is that I think he knows that the players, his teammates, appreciate him, but he’s getting the rewards for all of his hard work.

And some people question elements of his game, but I think he’s a fantastic player. And whatever system that you play, or whatever job you ask him to do, he’ll just do it. And that is, wow, that’s gold dust. I’ve had some players here and one of them I got rid of, thankfully, that if it wasn’t how he wanted it to be, sulk. 

So we talk about how how the squad evolves, I don’t want energy sappers.... I like selfish players who are selfish to be successful. There’s a difference between selfless and selfish when the selfish types of players who are just there for themselves, not interested.

Andi is having a good season, 15 goals - yeah, let’s see if we can get to 20. I mean, our strike force incidentally, have got 30 goals between them. All the talk last summer was about signing a striker, we can’t afford, and probably won’t do for a few years, to buy a striker that’s better than what we’ve got, that’s the problem.

And so at the moment, if you’re looking at where we need to make adjustments, it’s certainly not up front at the moment. It would be, you know, whether whether we can keep everybody or not is a different type of question. But it’s not a huge necessity at the moment.

We’ve got a lot of experience and talent in the midfield areas, in wide areas too, but defensively and I’m very reluctant to, and I said to couple other players today, and I was talking to them individually that as an ex defender myself, I feel for some of our defenders because they’re playing pretty well themselves.

But we’ve been too weak collectively as a team, defensively, at times, and people you know, there are individuals who have made made mistakes and that’s unfortunate because they don’t go out on purpose to make them but it’s cost us quite dearly. So it’s life. Andi is a good one.

Is it actually a bit surprising that he’s not an out-and-out  striker and he’s got that statistic this season because you said...

He is a striker. He is a forward, for me he is a forward. He will do what you want him to do if you want him to run in behind and play on the last shoulder he’ll do it all day long.

But what we have is a quite a nice blend, you know, we’ve got even Nahki, Nahki will score goals. But you know, for Nahki to find it difficult to get pitch time is an indication of how the others are doing. Because it’s not favouritism.

We have players in there to do specific jobs and the blend at the moment is good. You know, Nahki scored two goals coming off the bench.

Dan Bentley’s going to return on the weekend. Sometimes defenders, players react differently to the kind of different goalkeepers because Bentley and O’Leary have different characteristics. Do you reckon the defence will react differently to Bentley being in goals this weekend? Or is it just a case of change of personnel?

One of my normal answers to that would be you’d have to ask the players but I understand where you’re coming from. Dan’s a vastly experienced keeper and they have different characteristics. But in training, yesterday and today, they’ve looked fine so I don’t worry about that. And I think it’s important to recognise that players are different and that goes for goalkeepers too. So I’ve had two centre-backs, they might have different characteristics too, goalkeepers too.

So it’s really important that Dan is able to just come back into the side and have a calming influence on his teammates and be able to to dominate his box and that’s really what it’s about. So he knows the job that he has to do.

You mentioned about the strike force here a second ago, Chris Martin signed a two year deal when he originally joined the club with the option of a year. Is he someone you really are keen to keep around next year?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

And I’m just going to say as well as it is coming up to a year since you actually took on the job, and it was Middlesbrough away in the first game and you weren’t manager but was in  stands. How do you measure that progress in the year so far?

Well I’ve been here a year probably and I’ve aged probably five, who knows. It’s not an easy job, let’s put it that way but I didn’t expect it to be. And I knew when I was coming in here, I didn’t really expect it to be as chaotic as it is, or has been.

There’s a lot to do. There’s a lot to do in terms of... it would’ve been nice to have, to get more wins and certainly be more difficult to beat, that irritates me so much that we instead of losing games we scrap a draw out of them but we’ve been unable to do that just because we don’t have, at the moment, we don’t have that balance right in the squad or key players have not been available.

So I don’t overthink that... I heard a comment that I think Jon said it actually in the media that we are underperforming and he’s the chairman so he’s allowed to have that point of view - I don’t agree with him, personally.

Quite frankly, we haven’t won the number of games we should’ve done, we haven’t got the number of points we should’ve had but we’re not underperforming. In fact, a lot of our players are overperforming.

So that gives James a bit more meat on the question you asked me about players at full tilt.

As far as I’m concerned, progression and progress, yes I would love it to be about results and you know people in my job ultimately lose their jobs because you don’t get enough wins but this job is a bit more complex and so I think, yeah, we’ve made really good progress on some areas and we’ve unfortunately been back pedalling in other areas and I think the club is still, not talking about the team now, I’m talking about the club, the club is still struggling to find the identity that it really wants.

In my eyes it’s always about let’s produce a team which works hard and people hate playing against, but we have talent as well. That’s what I really want, we are a long way away from that at the moment but the group of people that we got here now compared to what it was a year ago - big difference, in a positive way. So how do people look at it, like I say he’s the chairman, an owner so he can say what he thinks, but I don’t agree with him.