Tuesday 22 August 2017

Mick McCarthy waits for call as FAI bide time

Ireland ready to re-hire Ipswich boss if 'glamour' names ignore overtures

Mick McCarthy is the leading contender to be the next Irish manager
Mick McCarthy is the leading contender to be the next Irish manager

Garry Doyle

In Irish football circles, the only thing that moves fast is gossip and rumour.

Certainly the process to appoint a new manager isn't leaving onlookers gasping for breath. It is over a month now since Giovanni Trapattoni departed and the succession race is again becoming a test of endurance.

Its current leader is Mick McCarthy, who has admitted publicly that he would like to be offered the job.

More private were the conversations a couple of FAI guys had last week with a leading Ireland player, who revealed that McCarthy, to say the least, was uppermost in the players' thoughts.

"The impression taken away from those conversations was that it would be Mick," said a dressing-room source.

And yet, until a contract is signed, sealed and delivered, no one can be certain. Ask Terry Venables, who six years ago stood in the same position McCarthy is in now – aware of the courtship yet vulnerable to the FAI's desire to meet their Prince Charming.

Sure enough, Giovanni Trapattoni emerged from the shadows and Venables got ditched at the altar. Now it is McCarthy fluttering his eyelids while the FAI once again play hard to get.

It hardly helps McCarthy's patience that the two matchmakers – Ray Houghton and Ruud Dokter – are working their way through a shortlist of prospective candidates from Hector Cuper to Alex McLeish, Dick Advocaat to Carlos Quieroz and Walter Zenga.

Intriguingly, contact has also been made by two unnamed Premier League managers, but neither is considered suitable.

McCarthy, though, ticks all the boxes but, with 11 months to go before the next competitive fixture and money being saved on every day that passes without the job being filled, the FAI are in no rush.

From experience, chief executive John Delaney knows how events can conspire in his favour and how deliberation can throw up surprises – like six years ago, Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi.

That Lippi came so close to getting the job back in the winter of 2007/08 is not widely known. That he is now working in China of all places – albeit for €10m per year – and is out of contract this time next year, could become increasingly relevant as time goes by, because he has the box-office attraction the FAI craves.

So, too, do Martin O'Neill and Guus Hiddink. Yet, the longer they stay silent, the greater the FAI's uncertainty about their availability grows. Still, should either man pick up the phone and say "I'm in" then McCarthy will be out.

The more likely scenario, however, is a reunion with the man they divorced 11 years ago. They've had three partners since and have never been truly happy with any. McCarthy – "I'm a better manager but I don't know if I am a wiser man" – is ready and waiting.

How much longer he is prepared to wait is something only he knows. Yet it is understandable how he has reached this juncture, after spending yet another summer shopping around football's bargain basement, picking up loan signings and free transfers to rebuild Ipswich.

"I've never complained, never thrown the dummy out of the pram but just got on with it," he said. "I've always been that way."

And that's just the point. Twenty years on from taking his baby managerial steps at Millwall, McCarthy is back doing the same type of job, sifting through rubbish to find uncut gems, competing on an uneven playing field with a smaller budget.

In his head, he knows he is worth more. Why else would he have a clause inserted in his contract – which expired in August – allowing him to leave without compensation if the Irish job came up?

Why – 15 months ago – did he turn down Nottingham Forest and their millions?

"It was because I wanted to get back to the Premier League," he said at the time.

Yet the call never came and now – after doing another fine job – there is a sense it never will because, even though he has developed an iron-clad belief to accompany his tough skin, he knows he has a reputation as a safe pair of hands rather than a visionary genius.


The Ireland job is within his grasp, however, because the FAI know they have a group of players who need a bit of cajoling and know they have a manager whose speciality is repairing damaged morale.

They know about the little stories, like the one in 2008, when Wolves were chasing promotion and, on the morning of a crucial match, McCarthy thought nothing of flying over to Ireland to attend the funeral of the wife of one of his former backroom staff.

They're aware of his discreet visits to hospitalised children and how he connects with their parents and inspires them to keep believing.

That is the type of man they want. And – if they can't get a marquee name – the type of manager they want is one who took Ipswich off the Championship floor and made them believe, just as he re-energised Sunderland and Wolves.

Those who remember away-day capitulations in Macedonia, Croatia and Holland – when late goals were conceded by virtue of some dubious calls by McCarthy on the sideline – are also aware of his tactical maturation since then.

"Over time, you learn," he said recently. "You learn about new training methods, about GPS, tracker systems, the stats, the data, the modern nutritional information, the aides. Having these fabulous regimes are crucial but you have to back it up. Personality is still a big part of management.

"You need to create a good environment and a winning environment; otherwise people won't work. The bottom line is that I believe in myself. I believe in the fundamentals of what I am as a manager and what I am as a person.

"That comes back to my upbringing, how my parents taught me to behave. I like to speak to people, look them in the eye, be polite to them but lead them."

Will he be leading Ireland again?

"It might be that I'd just like to be asked so I can say yes. It might be that I'd just like to be asked so I can say no," he said on Friday. "The question hasn't come, though."

Not yet.

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