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Football: I'LL COPE WITH PEAR PRESSURE; NEW BHOY HAS BOTTLE TO SURVIVE.

Byline: By MARK GUIDI

STEPHEN PEARSON had no idea that his red card for a wild tackle on Didier Agathe would signal the start of Martin O'Neill's chase to sign him. The date was March 19, 2002 and although the Celtic boss was brassed off by the challenge he liked the fact that the Motherwell teenager was willing to put himself about.

O'Neill stepped up his interest in the last year after the former Fir Park midfielder had convinced him of of his ability to make a valuable contribution.

The fact that Pearson is left-sided also worked in his favour because the Hoops gaffer knew Bobby Petta and Steve Guppy were their way out and Alan Thompson was keen to have another stab at the Premiership.

O'Neill's new Bhoy is delighted with the way his transfer from Well has worked out.

The cash-strapped Lanarkshire side will receive pounds 350,000 and Pearo will pocket pounds 1.6 million for his three and a half year contract.

O'Neill was pleased to finally conclude the long-running saga of Pearson's transfer.

He said: ``Stephen first came to my attention when he had the cheek to fight with Didier right in front of my dug-out!

``I thought to myself: `How dare he fight with one of my players!' ``I've really looked at him as a potential signing for the last year and am delighted to have landed him.

``He has natural aggression and he will have to curtail it,although I like that sort of thing in a player. I see it as an attribute.''

Pearson admitted that he has learned from his red-card lesson.

He said: ``I was sent off for a late tackle on Didier. It was a lack of experience, a touch of naivety.

``You have to learn from things like that because no player likes to be sent off.

``Maybe it wasn't the best way to try to attract a manager's attention but I suppose it didn't do me any harm in the long run.

``Martin had a wee joke with me about it during the signing talks.''

Pearson was a red-hot property at Fir Park and his Monaco-based agent Willie McKay revealed that clubs like Rangers, Everton, Blackburn and Leicester were also keen to land his charge.

Celtic won the chase and Pearo has become O'Neill's first signing of a Scottish outfield player.

The Celts boss will be pleased to have beaten Ibrox counterpart Alex McLeish to his target.

In the last few seasons the Old Firm have battled it out for the signatures of Rab Douglas, Dariusz Adamczuk and Russel Latapy.

The two outfield players who opted to go to Ibrox turned out not to be worth the fuss while the Hoops keeper has lacked consistency in big matches.

But Pearson is determined to break the mould and go on to play a significant part in O'Neill's plans.

The midfielder said: ``It's going to be difficult to get a first team place but I'm ready for the challenge.

``My favoured position is on the left-hand side of midfield but not right out on the touchline. I prefer to be nearer the middle of the field.

``However, I'm prepared to be flexible to get a game and if I have to play wing-back I'll do it. I've played there before so itwon't be new to me. I know from playing against Celtic that they have an excellent team full of quality.

``Chris Sutton has always impressed me and so has Neil Lennon. The defenders are also good.

``My form has dipped a little in recent weeks and I'm not sure why.

``I suppose the transfer talk surrounding me played its part.

``But it's over now and all I have to do is concentrate on playing football and trying to get into the Celtic side.

``I really am so happy to be here. A few years ago when I was breaking into the Motherwell first team I never thought I would get the chance to sign for Celtic because they were spending big on foreign players.

However, the cash isn't there nowto do that and it has given me a chance and led to Gavin Rae joining Rangers.

``It's great news for young Scottish players up and down the country.''

Scotland boss Berti Vogts is worried Pearson and Rae won't feature regularly for their clubs.

The German coach said: ``Moving to Celtic is good for the boy but I don't know if it's a good move for the national team. He will need to play matches for Celtic.''

But Pearo, who made his full debut against Holland in the 1-0 win at Hampden, doesn't want to give up his place in the national squad.

He said: ``I made it into the Scotland team ahead of schedule and really enjoyed it.

``I don't want to miss out on it from here on in.''

CAPTION(S):

Shamed: Johan Mjallby watches Pearson walk; BHOY, THIS IS CLASS: Pearson with new team-mate Larsson
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 11, 2004
Words:829
Previous Article:Football: Didier's happy to role with it.
Next Article:Football: VOGTS GOES INTO BATTLE WITH RIVALS.


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