Wednesday 29 January 2020

Stephen Hunt: It was a shame to see Mick go but departure was inevitable

Mick McCarthy. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.
Mick McCarthy. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.

Stephen Hunt

My former club Wolverhampton Wanderers are the best Championship team I have seen and they will be a top-10 Premier League club next season.

The last manager to take the club up was Mick McCarthy and unfortunately, as proved the case with the Wolves faithful, his time at Ipswich Town just ran its course and it was a shame to see him leave the club last week. He will understand, though, that his departure was inevitable.

He didn't enjoy the same backing he got at Wolves from Ipswich's owner Marcus Evans and I suspect the frustration and impatience of the Ipswich supporters this season is more directed at the owner than Mick, but the manager is the one who has to front it and put up with it.

It will not be easy for his successor at Portman Road. The finances are tiny compared to some of the clubs, like Wolves, who have given it a real go this season and officially got their rewards yesterday when their promotion was confirmed thanks to Fulham's 1-1 draw against Brentford.

The new man at Ipswich will be inheriting Mick's players who are used to playing Mick's way, and if he is going to try and introduce the total opposite to that and play flat-out football, he will need time, and you don't often get that in the Championship.

As for Mick, I am sure he will be back and he will be one of the favourites for any job that comes up in the Championship over the coming weeks and months. I know he likes his cycling and his holidays and he will no doubt enjoy a break from the game with his wife Fiona, but I would suspect that he becomes a right grump when he is bored - or an even bigger one! But then that is one of the things that drives him.

Things never stand still for long in the Championship, and I won't be surprised to see Mick back in the manager's chair before long.

What has been something of a surprise, though, has been just how quickly former Porto coach Nuno Espirito Santo has made such a positive impact at Molineux. He has delivered Premier League football to Wolves in his first season, just when local rivals West Brom are almost certainly heading in the opposite direction.

There were questions surrounding the team and the coach - given the club had brought in a foreign manager who was untried in the Championship and who had signed a number of overseas players, predominantly from Portugal.

While Santo was a gamble for the Wolves board, after they had tried and failed with British and foreign managers in the recent past, he got the chemistry in his team right straight away. When he went to three at the back, the players fitted in immediately, and they haven't looked back

Santo has adopted a mix of styles in their play which has been absolutely spot on and since the turn of the year, Wolves have looked a certainty for promotion.

They have some extremely talented individuals, but they play as a team. They are compact, their shape is excellent, they never look too vulnerable and their attacking play is dangerous, with and without the ball. They are patient and have players with the ability to keep the ball and counter-attack with pace, while defending in numbers. I would say Wolves have the perfect mix for this division. And they can only get better in the top flight.

Santo has upset a few of the Championship managers along the way, particularly in the last few weeks when he fell out with Neil Warnock, who is no shrinking violet. Next year in the Premier League he will have to calm down and play the game a bit more, but he will realise that. Wolves will not win as many games next season and it is going to be tougher for everyone.

Of course the Wolves team includes our own Matt Doherty, singled out by Steve Bruce last week as the best full-back in the division. If Seamus Coleman wasn't around, he would be Ireland's best right-back too.

What I like about Doherty is that he looks to go about his business quietly and effectively, with the minimum of fuss. Although his body language occasionally looks casual, his attitude is the complete opposite.

Next season will be a big step up for him and the Wolves players but they already have quality in the squad and we can expect them to add even more quality to that in the summer. I would not be surprised if Wolves spent around £100 million (€116m) this summer just to ensure they stay up.

When Wolves are back in the big time, the club's close working relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes will come more scrutiny but other clubs can conduct their business in similar ways. There's no point in rivals crying about it. It's a fact of football life.

If anything, Sunderland should take note of how Wolves have bounced back from their relegation to League One because they have shown what can happen to a club with the right ownership, development and investment.

The fan-base is massive at Wolves which is fantastic, but it can also be a distraction. They have never been afraid to be critical of the team or individuals but perhaps that is because they are so passionate. They can certainly look forward to the future with some optimism, although they will not need to be reminded that they will be making a significant step up when they rub shoulders with the Premier League's big guns again.

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