Monday 22 January 2018

Mick McCarthy: Back in the bacon slicer

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

MICK McCARTHY under pressure. Sometimes, it seems as though it's the 52-year-old's default setting.

This afternoon, Swansea come to Molineux and, if they win, calls for McCarthy's head will grow louder from the Wolves faithful, who have a love-hate relationship with the man who brought them back to the Premier League.

It is a top-flight encounter with a distinct Irish flavour. Swansea are managed by Brendan Rodgers, a Catholic from Carnlough in Antrim, who grew up as a Celtic supporter.

He is a young manager with a plan, who owes a huge part of his progression to the support of Jose Mourinho, who spotted something in a former Reading youth whose career was cut short by injury, and brought him to Chelsea as reserve team manager.

From there, Rodgers has forged a positive reputation and is lauded for a progressive approach and an expansive style of play which is easy on the eye.

The 38-year-old is commonly placed in a bracket with a new breed of managers. In the opposite dugout this afternoon will be a man who is depicted as a relic from the old school.

Five successive defeats have, to coin one of his old sayings, returned McCarthy's backside to the bacon slicer. Football fans have a relentless desire for change and they are demanding something different after a run of five successive defeats.

The criticisms are familiar. They say that his team are one dimensional and lacking in flair and pace. As one unhappy punter put it this week, there is an abundance of players in his dressing- room who are hard workers and 'put in a shift'. On the flip side, quality is lacking.

A derby defeat to West Brom last Sunday hit hard. Central defender Roger Johnson, McCarthy's big summer signing from Birmingham, was taken to the cleaners by a vibrant Shane Long, while the Tipperary man's good friend, Kevin Doyle, was ineffective at the other end and admitted afterwards that he was having a "nightmare" campaign.

You can imagine Giovanni Trapattoni hearing that statement and feeling a sense of vindication after his controversial view of the manner in which McCarthy brought the player back from a medial ligament injury that reduced his pre-season to nothing.

Wolves have been here before, of course. Last autumn, they went through a similarly depressing run, but emerged from the gloom to mount an impressive survival effort post-Christmas that ended happily on the final day.

All involved stressed their desire to bring the club to the next level, and they kicked off this campaign with a pair of wins that suggested progress. Then, they hit a roadblock.

It would be wrong to insinuate that McCarthy is a manager who shies away from experimentation. During his Ireland days, he famously tried a 3-5-2 and his old foe Roy Keane, (who was one of the defenders), actually acknowledged that, for all their differences, McCarthy did try to encourage an attractive brand of play.

However, in an ironic twist, even Trapattoni has questioned Wolves' reliance on long balls forward to Doyle, with the Molineux sceptics wondering if McCarthy can find the inspiration for a Plan B.

Of course, the perception of the Barnsley native as an old fashioned character is largely fuelled by his own unique brand of wit. He responded to talk of pressure this week in his own

inimitable fashion.

"I understand all the phone calls (on talk radio shows), but what do you want me to do about it? Top myself? Hang myself? Throw myself in the canal?" he asked.

McCarthy is comfortable fighting a rearguard action. In many respects, it's his trademark. A questionnaire in the popular magazine 'Four Four Two' back in 2009 offered an insight into his frame of mind. Asked to sum up his philosophy on football, McCarthy avoided pretension.

"Me? I always do my best. It's a boring one, I know, but I haven't got a quotable philosophy for you that some might have," he responded.

"When I was a kid growing up in Barnsley I was turned away from the Barnsley boys' team because I wasn't good enough. I then played for Barnsley juniors, went to the first team, went to Manchester, went to Celtic, went to Lyon, went to Millwall, won 57 caps. It was all through being a grafter, being bloody-minded, being belligerent."

Some of those characteristics will lead to calls for McCarthy's reappointment as Irish boss if both himself and the FAI end up at a loose end in a near future. It's not beyond the realms of possibility.

Others would desire a manager in the Rodgers mould. He would give a different answer when asked about his philosophy.

Earlier this season, his Swansea side were praised for going to Stamford Bridge and attacking. They lost, but the purists were satisfied. "We don't thump the ball up the pitch," he stressed. "We try to create and score goals."

Such a philosophy might find favour with some in the FAI when the time comes to find a replacement for Trapattoni. It's debatable, however, whether Rodgers would be interested.

Despite his Catholic upbringing, his international loyalties are firmly with Northern Ireland.

Ironically, his son Anton, who is on the books of Brighton, has represented the Republic at underage level and was on standby for last summer's U-19 European Championship finals.

However, Gerry Armstrong is trying to lure the midfielder back into the Northern fold and has the support of the teenager's father.


"I want to see Northern Ireland boys play for Northern Ireland and the reason my son is playing for the Republic is simple -- they asked him while he was never asked to play for Northern Ireland," said Rodgers recently.

"One of my ambitions as a manager is to manage my country and I would be proud to do that one day."

The Wolves' manager has been there and done that, even though he was constantly derided by an element who always seemed to believe that his face didn't quite fit. In his subsequent places of work, the climate has been similar.

His long CV in management is notable for a shortage of relaxation periods in his places of work. Never mind his transfer policy; the real struggle has been buying time.

By now, he knows the fickle nature of an environment where the margin between success and failure is slim. Victory this afternoon would leapfrog his employers above Swansea and their highly regarded supremo, yet a trip to Manchester City next week hardly offers an opportunity to build momentum.

Once again, McCarthy is approaching a crossroads, but don't expect him to yield.

Wolves v Swansea,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 12.45

Irish Independent

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