McCarthy's fatal flaw
He can get a club promoted, he might even keep a club up but he just can’t take a club to the next level
Published 14/02/2012 | 05:00
'Onwards and upwards', said Mick McCarthy as he left the Wolverhampton Wanderers training ground for the last time. Unfortunately, the reason for his departure has been an inability to ascend to a position of comfort.
It's a failing that has dogged his managerial career. McCarthy is the go-to-guy for a club with ambitions of dining at the top table. The problem is they spend their time there wondering if the chair is about to be pulled from under them.
This season was supposed to be different. After surviving two relegation battles, the hierarchy wanted to avoid the nerve-wracking drama.
The pre-season chatter was about the need to move beyond that, and two wins to open the campaign suggested he was on the right track. But from there it has been a familiar tale.
Chief executive Jez Moxey said yesterday there was an air of inevitability about the way things were going in the wake of Sunday's thrashing at the hands of local rivals West Brom.
In other words, the board and owner Steve Morgan believed it was going to be third time unlucky.
"We have to give ourselves a fighting chance to get out of relegation," said Morgan, "We didn't feel it was going that way with the way performances have been going.
"The last 22 results have yielded 14 points. The decision was taken extremely regrettably."
Unquestionably, McCarthy leaves the club in a far better position than it was when he was appointed in the summer of 2006.
Building a promotion-winning team on a tight budget was a significant achievement, arguably better than the 94-point haul which his Sunderland team amassed in the 2004-05 campaign.
Certainly, keeping Wolves in the top flight was a welcome contrast from the misery he suffered on Wearside that led to his sacking before the Black Cats exited the Premier League.
Wolves have spent most of the past two decades in the second tier. But they have failed to push on in the manner Stoke have under Tony Pulis, who was appointed a month before McCarthy, and has grown the Potters into a secure top-flight outfit.
McCarthy's supporters will, rightly, say that Pulis has been given far more money to spend.
But the former Ireland manager has been accused by detractors of spending his cash poorly when Morgan loosened the purse strings. His big signing last summer was Roger Johnson, a £7m capture from Birmingham who has struggled desperately.
The emergence of Swansea and Norwich with a free-flowing brand of football has exposed McCarthy's Wolves side as being too one -dimensional.
Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert have arrived with players that are predominantly from a lower league background, but they have played their way away from the danger zone.
By contrast, Wolves have persisted with a strategy that revolves around a solitary front man and a direct route to goal. Even Giovanni Trapattoni -- whose teams are not renowned for being pleasing on the eye -- commented that Kevin Doyle should carry an umbrella out onto the Wolves pitch so he could use it to take the ball down from the sky.
With Doyle struggling with his form, McCarthy was in a difficult situation. Steven Fletcher has risen to the challenge and, occasionally, the Yorkshireman has opted for a front pair.
But it's not just a question of formation, it's about the type of player he has brought to the club.
In a total of 101 Premier League matches with Wolves, McCarthy's side collected just 99 points. Yet they picked them up in surprising places.
With so many Irish players in the ranks, it's probably not unusual that they have some of the characteristics of an Irish team -- specifically, an ability to raise their game when the backs are against the wall.
Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all went away with nothing from Molineux last season, and two of their better results in this campaign have been draws at the Emirates Stadium and White Hart Lane.
Against the teams around them in the table, McCarthy's charges have been incapable of dictating the tempo. It was cruelly illustrated in their 2-2 draw with Swansea early in the season. A pair of late goals rescued a point, but didn't mask the deficiencies.
A two-part question really. For some of his players it will be a nervous time, and it could have implications for the future of his sizeable Irish gang.
Doyle may benefit from a change of approach, but McCarthy has been a huge advocate of Stephen Ward. The ex-Bohs man used to be a target for the boo-boys, but has turned into one of the club's better players. Stephen Hunt has been in and out of the side this year, while Kevin Foley is another McCarthy favourite.
Young Matt Doherty signed a new contract before he went on loan to Hibernian, while teenager Anthony Forde has also burst into the picture. McCarthy pursued a particular type of player and mostly bought from these islands. The new man may have different ideas come the summer.
What's next for Mick? Well, unlike his old foe Roy Keane, he won't stay out of management for too long. Already, his name figures prominently in the betting lists for the job at Leeds, and it's understandable.
They are a Championship side with Premier League ambitions, and McCarthy is a man with the attributes to take them there.
Nobody can doubt his skill at bringing a club up a level. It's the next step which remains the Achilles heel.