Monday 16 December 2019

Daniel McDonnell: McCarthy still fighting hard to defy all the odds

Another defeat on Saturday has heaped the pressure on Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
Another defeat on Saturday has heaped the pressure on Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The most honest interview conducted by a manager in English football last week slipped by without much comment.

Readers of the 'East Anglian Daily Times' were given an insight into the mind of Mick McCarthy in the aftermath of a humbling FA Cup defeat at the hands of non-league side Lincoln on Tuesday night.

The local paper ran a simple Q&A based on the manager's feelings in the 24 hours after the game.

Question: You've said yesterday was 'horrible'. Did you try and avoid the fallout and reaction?

McCarthy: "I was up at two o'clock, I didn't sleep and then I was out of bed at the usual time of quarter to six. I took my daughter to the train station, which was lovely, then I had my granddaughter.

"I bought two newspapers purposely to get it over with. I read what they had to say. It was cathartic that, just to get it out of my system. Do I listen to anybody else? Do I 'eck. I don't want anybody else's opinion on it. I feel bad enough about it myself."

Question: Do you become desensitised to criticism the longer you've been in football?

"I remember being considerably younger at Millwall and how much it did affect me then. You tend to take it far more personally when you're younger.

"I've got a bit more perspective on life now. People who say things to be hurtful, I can still manage to speak to them now, whereas when I was younger I might have confronted them... I still might when the occasion comes.

"It's just a lot easier. Age has to bring something, surely? Whatever that is. I think 'thank God for that' sometimes, because I wouldn't want to be as angry as I was when I was 37, because I was an angry man then. Occasionally it still rears its head."

Ironically enough, the newspaper indicated that the discussion ended on an abrupt note, when a comment from McCarthy that he would be "the master of my own destiny" led to a search for clarification on whether that meant he was prepared to walk away at the end of the season.

At 57, the fire still burns.

Last week, there appeared to be belated confirmation that another former Irish boss, Giovanni Trapattoni, had retired from management. It has been a drawn-out process, with the 77-year-old Italian suggesting at various stages since his September 2013 departure from Ireland that he had options on the table. They never came to pass.

Trap was 37 when he was appointed as the coach of Juventus, the defining role of his career. That he stayed in the game for over three decades afterwards is a testament to his durability and desire.

It's hard to see the modern-day early starter staying in the sphere for that long; 46-year-old Pep Guardiola is already making noises about stepping away from the business.

In March, McCarthy will celebrate the 25th anniversary of being handed the reins at Millwall and he has been in work for most of that time frame.

It's a fairly remarkable achievement given the fickle nature of the business. After four years and two months at Ipswich, he is the longest serving manager in the Championship.

The club's fans are growing fatigued because they crave change.

McCarthy came in with an initial brief to save the Tractor Boys from relegation and built expectations by then launching a pair of promotion challenges. Critics claim things have gone stale, with the quality of football underwhelming.

Owner Marcus Evans attended Saturday's reverse at Huddersfield.

"If he's here to watch my performance and see what the fans think of me then great, that's fine," said McCarthy afterwards. "I don't think so somehow."

He seems confident that he retains Evans' faith, yet it would be understandable if McCarthy actually ran out of patience first.

Unfortunately for him, the paucity of attractive replay options last Tuesday meant that Ipswich's inadequacies were exposed to a wider audience on prime time BBC.

They are a mid-table Championship team, but they looked much worse than that in a dreadful display.

McCarthy has said that he is working off a budget which makes finishing in the peloton a reasonable expectation and the point is a fair one - even if it's not what supporters want to hear.

Ipswich have been slow to loosen the purse strings and McCarthy's selection at Lincoln illustrated that as it featured nine free transfers, one loanee and 22-year-old Grant Ward, who was picked up from Spurs for an undisclosed fee.

His XI included two textbook McCarthy signings: experienced Irish internationals that he brought on board on the cheap.

Jonathan Douglas is still plugging away at 35 and joined after doing well at Brentford.

Meanwhile, Leon Best is struggling to fill the void left by the decision to sell their main man Daryl Murphy to the bulging squad of promotion favourites Newcastle. Injuries to David McGoldrick have not helped the manager. Best has failed to score in 12 outings at his sixth club in five years. He has scored 10 goals in that time frame.

In contrast, other Championship clubs can spend £12m on a striker - Aston Villa paid that amount for Ross McCormack last summer, although they are regretting it, with Steve Bruce slaughtering the player over the weekend for being unfit and frequently missing training.

McCarthy's track record in the division indicates he would do quite well with £12m. At his current abode, he seems destined to shop in the bargain basement and many others in his position would already have stepped away for even more family time.

However, men like McCarthy and Trapattoni have the bug that motivated them to outlast the peers from their age group who dropped out of management after a handful of jobs.

It takes an admirable kind of stubbornness to keep coming back for more in an attempt to really take control of your own destiny.

Only a privileged few earn the luxury of deciding when to retire from the game. For the vast majority, it's the game that retires them.

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