McCarthy's motivation magic key to Wolves bid to stay in the top flight
Published 20/05/2011 | 05:00
Maybe it is a parallel that has been cruelly over-drawn at times, but then it was Roy Keane, the casualty of this particular football equation, who said that Mick McCarthy was a poor player who had turned into a poor coach -- or words to that effect.
No one, and least of all McCarthy himself, claims that the manager of Wolves is some genius of the technical area, but, at the famous old stadium of Molineux on Sunday afternoon, he will be given a fresh round of tumultuous applause if he finishes another Premier League season still on his feet, still confirming his ability to find a way to survive against the heaviest odds.
Comparisons with Keane, of course, remain inevitable.
When Keane replaced McCarthy at Sunderland he was given the financial backing to win something more than another one-year lease on the big time, and then when he moved to Ipswich, he had another chance to confirm the suspicions of those who believed he could reproduce off the field the authority and power of decision he had displayed on it.
Everything was expected of Keane, little of McCarthy -- beyond the fighting instincts of a man reared in a Yorkshire coalfield.
Yet, on Sunday, McCarthy is buoyed by the devotion of his players and the respect of his chairman and owner Steve Morgan, a man who takes advantage of free access to the Wolves dressing-room to make periodic rallying cries -- but never at cost to his manager's rapport with his players.
"From time to time, a club gets into difficulties on the field and has to fight for survival, but I've never doubted Mick McCarthy's ability to inspire his players," says the owner who once tried to gain control of his home town club Liverpool. "He has their respect -- and their determination to get out of this situation."
What McCarthy has displayed, in all his reinventions as player and a manager, is an engaging lack of pretension. Combined with the rough humour that used to sustain men of his roots on the coalface, it is a quality that will provide Wolves with perhaps a vital edge over a Blackburn led by the currently embattled Steve Kean.
The man who replaced 'Big' Sam Allardyce has had varying degrees of support from the club's Indian ownership, starting with a euphoric announcement that he was the man to make Blackburn a marquee name on the sub-continent -- a claim that has inevitably become more muted with his difficulties on an off the field, in the latter category an initially positive test for drink driving arriving with the worst possible timing.
What seems certain is that on Sunday, just a few days after being summoned to a crisis meeting in India at the company headquarters, he is likely to confront a rival attempting to produce the best of his motivational powers.
After last weekend's triumph at Sunderland -- especially sweet after his years of toil and angst at the Stadium of Light -- McCarthy was at his puckish best, clearly the man who once pointed out that the initials on his trackside top indicated Mick McCarthy and not Merlin the Magician. He seemed especially irked by questions concerning his previous lack of success on visits to Sunderland -- and the presence in the directors of box of rock icon, and Wolves vice-president, Robert Plant.
As far as McCarthy was concerned, the most relevant rock and roll was the impressive performance of his team.
McCarthy warmed to his theme in vintage old pro style, saying, "I don't bother with all that bull****, I really don't, because everyone seems to have a certain stat or angle, whether it's Robert Plant or the fact that I've never won a game here (as a visiting manager.)
"When I was here I had the best of times. I won loads of games, I won the Championship here, I got into the Premier League without a pot to p*** in or a window to throw it out of, and then next season I was given less again. But I loved it. When I left here, I did it with my head held high."
This was pure McCarthy -- and pure this-is-my-world and this-is-my-survival-kit.
On Sunday, it will surely be the most tangible of assets in the fight to stay away from the relegation trapdoor.
McCarthy's battle cry will be the familiar one of natural born survivors, a heavy reliance on the need for each player to face up to his responsibilities.
"On Sunday there will be nowhere to hide for anyone," says McCarthy, "and this includes me. This is my team, my work and, as always, the buck stops here."
It is an approach that appears to have, win or lose, insulated him against the fate of West Ham's Avram Grant, who was summarily dismissed in the wake of the club's relegation at Wigan last weekend.
Wolves' owner Morgan could hardly have offered more reassurance on the approach to the Blackburn game, saying, "Mick has been here five years and I don't believe you get any progress by chopping and changing. That's happened in other clubs and what good has it done? There are times when things don't go right, but you have to stick together and make sure you get it right next time.
"I think that's what we've done. Mick has made progress every year since I came here four years ago. If you go to the dressing-room before the game and see the rapport between Mick and the players, you will see theirs is a proper spirit between the manager and the players.
"In my first year we missed the play-offs by a goal, the next we won the championships and, in the third, year we established ourselves in the Premier League. This time we are two points ahead of last season, despite being in a relegation battle."
Meanwhile, winger Matt Jarvis -- McCarthy's most striking investment in a style of football he hopes will one day carry the team away from the trenches -- says that he aches to play against Blackburn.
He was required to come off the bench at Sunderland to make a crucial contribution to a vital goal, something he hopes will bring him back to the starting action.
The chances are that McCarthy will grant his wish. He does, after all, love a player who -- rather like himself -- refuses to hide.