Monday 20 November 2017

Defeatist Keane could learn from McCarthy

Roy Keane could benefit from following Mick McCarthy's pragmatic outlook on the game. Photo: Getty Images
Roy Keane could benefit from following Mick McCarthy's pragmatic outlook on the game. Photo: Getty Images
James Lawton

James Lawton

If Mick McCarthy continues his survival as a professional football man -- while his most scathing critic confirms the growing suspicion that he himself might well be preparing to do another runner -- the most compelling explanation might well lie in the classic old litmus test evoked by Roy Keane this week.

Keane this week talked about his tendency to see a half-empty glass of wine. At the same time McCarthy, so damningly described as a 'crap player and a crap coach' by Keane at the time of the Corkman's premature exit from the 2002 World Cup, was dwelling on the flavour, not the sediment, of a stirring performance in defeat at Old Trafford in the Carling Cup.

McCarthy's embattled Wolves, second bottom of the Premier League, fought back to equalise twice, before United's young Mexican matador Javier Hernandez applied a killing sword-stroke -- and his third goal in two matches.

Keane watched his becalmed Championship side Ipswich recover to beat English league football's 91st-ranked side -- of 92 -- Northampton for a place in the quarter-finals but, unlike McCarthy, wallowed in the discouraging odds facing his team.


Here we may well have the kernel of a growing possibility that McCarthy, the battler who has stretched every football asset he ever received just about as far as it will go, will emerge as the long-term winner of the vendetta so ferociously declared by a man whose playing career was conducted largely on another and superior planet.

Striking patterns, certainly, continue to be formed and whatever the outcome of Keane's latest football mission, whether or not it ends as his previous one did at Sunderland with a walk-out of shocking abruptness, it certainly has not been a good week to dispute the theory that his whole managerial career is becoming a duel between himself and his demons, with the feelings of more or less everyone else pushed firmly into the margins.

This, plainly, is not the case with McCarthy. He came out of the bruising defeat at Old Trafford with his fists still raised against fate and with a call for his 24-year-old late emerging star Matt Jarvis to be hauled on to Fabio Capello's creaking England wagon.

The managers faced the world in not dissimilar circumstances -- Wolves have just one Premier League win so far and Keane's Ipswich have just crashed to three straight Championship defeats -- but the psychological terrain they occupied could scarcely have more different.

Here is Keane gloomily assessing the rest of his latest campaign: "You look at Cardiff and you see they are a world away from us. We are miles away from the likes of Cardiff and QPR (the Championship pacesetters) and people need to realise that. I appreciate my glass is always half-empty, but this is the reality."

The ghosts of Alf Ramsey and Bobby Robson, who brought the league title and the FA Cup to the East Anglian football outpost in 1962 and 1978 would have been singularly unimpressed by Keane's bleak view. The football world may have changed quite fundamentally since those starry days, when Ipswich also won the UEFA Cup and regularly competed in Europe, but belief in your ability to inspire a group of players beyond everyone's expectations is still a staple of managerial success.

McCarthy, certainly, hangs on to the possibility quite resolutely.

He was in particularly defiant form after the rousing, but ultimately frustrating, Cup tie against United.

He looked at the unfolding ordeal of matches against Manchester City, United again, and the currently sparkling Arsenal and saw a wine glass if not half-filled at least far from drained.

McCarthy declared: "We are all relishing the challenges ahead. They are all really tough games but they are great games to be involved in. In the last few days we have shown against Chelsea and United that we can compete with them. We need to scrape a result from somewhere and there could be no better one than against City."

McCarthy also defined his idea of the dividing line between reasonable hope and outright illusion when he said: "If you're playing well and getting beaten, you've got a chance, but if you're hopeless and getting beaten, you might as well pack up and go home."

That was the end scenario of Keane's first managerial challenge in the north east and even his most fervent admirers -- those whose memory of the morose but brilliantly motivated player has outlived that of the morose and self-absorbed manager -- must now get that queasy sensation of seeing a similar one in the works.

What seems as elusive as ever is a consistent thread in Keane's thinking and its absence was perhaps never more evident than in the recent convulsions after Wayne Rooney's contractual battle of nerves with United.

In one breath Keane was urging Rooney to push for all he could get while never forgetting that players "have always been pieces of meat". The next carried a gushing tribute to the club, which, in terms of morale and prestige, had just been brought to its knees by a player who happened to be suffering both dreadful form and a meltdown in his public image, embracing utterly the thrust of his advice.

Thus we have the ebb and flow of Keane's managerial personality -- but mostly the ebb. It is ironic that he alluded to the wine glass because, surely, the supreme example of such inherent pessimism came in that defining dispute with McCarthy while preparing for the World Cup in Saipan.

Keane raged at the hopelessness of the Irish preparations, and on impeccable professional grounds, but when the tournament was over, and Ireland finished as the ninth-ranked contender, there was an inevitable question: what might Ireland have achieved if Keane, who played such a role in qualification, had stayed?

The need for such pragmatism appears still to be low down on Keane's list of imperatives. Meanwhile McCarthy, bluff and indefatigable, continues to swig lustily on the idea that something might just turn up.

It is hard not to believe that he is giving himself, and all round him, a distinctly better chance.

Irish Independent

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