Wednesday 24 January 2018

Mr Motivator

McCarthy's never-say-die attitude rubbing off on his battling team as Wolves fight to avoid relegation

James Lawton

James Lawton

As Roy Keane mooches through his latest spell of gardening and walking-the-dog leave, it is hard not to speculate on his reaction to Mick McCarthy's latest piece of managerial derring-do against Manchester United.

Not out of cheap spite, or some gratuitous stirring of the embers of a professional relationship that splintered so abrasively a decade or so ago, but as maybe some little insight into the mysteries of success and failure and -- most pertinently in this case -- survival in football management.

Keane, after all, was the man of destiny. He was the superbly motivated player whose sheer achievement for a while seemed to represent all the authority of a serial winner.

Now he is again required to examine his own performance as a manager -- and perhaps marvel a little at the endurance and the nerve of the man he once dismissed with such ferocious anger and contempt.

Certainly it is astonishing to consider their separate paths in a game which Keane seemed at one point to have conquered by the sheer force of his will, and which for McCarthy has never promised much more than a persistently perilous challenge.

A player of immense commitment who necessarily gathered together every morsel of natural talent, McCarthy has shown the same determination, and resilience, in his managerial career.

However hard the going, he is a sticker, a battler and if anyone was looking for an appropriate tribute last weekend when his team of fighters brought down United, it could not have been carried by anyone more appropriately than Alex Ferguson.

He referred to McCarthy's good luck but quickly added that victory had been deserved.

It was a statement of grace that doesn't always come easily to Ferguson when choking back disappointment at any defeat, and we can only guess at the level of the United manager's chagrin over the ending of an unbeaten record and a jarring setback in the race for a 12th Premier League title.

However, McCarthy's team played as though their lives were at stake at every phase of the latest battle for survival in the top flight.

This is the enduring trick of McCarthy. He doesn't let go and nor does his team when the pressure is at its highest. Victories over Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and United have shown a team open to being rallied -- and a manager capable of hitting the most vital button of motivation.

It means that another member of the elite, Arsenal, cannot be reassured by tomorrow's visit of a team still locked in the relegation zone.

It is as though the manager bred in the unforgiving mining country of Yorkshire finds more than a little something of importance when the going is especially tough.

After the defeat of United, McCarthy declared: "In football you live for moments like this, but you also know the danger of getting carried away by them or listening to the praise, no more than you do all the criticism.

"The important thing is knowing what you stand for and what you want your team to represent. I genuinely don't know what the pundits are saying because I stay away from that -- although I do read the reports on Sunday.

"Everybody has an opinion. They say opinions are like backsides -- we've all got them but it's not always wise to air them in public.

"And when people do, it's not always wise to take notice of them. I don't, for my own sanity. One thing is certain: whatever is said never changes my mind. I know who I am and what I have to do."

Confront

What he does best, it seems, is confront the largest odds -- and keep faith with his players.

There was no greater evidence of this -- not even last season when McCarthy finally proved that he could keep a team in the top flight -- than the commitment of defender Ronald Zubar in the upsetting of the champions and league leaders.

Zubar might have unravelled under such pressure after a catastrophic mistake in the dying seconds of the previous game at Bolton, an error that cost one point and much personal humiliation.

Instead, Zubar was immense against United, a man recharged by the degree of support he had received from his boss.

"I can't say enough about the manager's support," he said. "I could have been dropped after the Bolton game -- everyone would have understood that. The manager might have wondered if I could have cope after what happened. But we had a good chat before the game.

"The gaffer knows that I always give my best. We had a good chat and he told me plenty of things that were true but that will stay between the gaffer and me. I know he's got confidence in me and from there it was up to me to perform."

As Wolves fight for their lives at the Emirates, such faith in the man on the touchline might just, once again, be a crucial element in a piece of major overachievement.

Scottish defender Christophe Berra is emphatic about the possibilities, saying: "It will be another tough game but we are more than capable of going to Arsenal and getting a result."

Such is the cry of a footballer who understands that if you try hard enough, sometimes anything is possible. It is a message about being obdurate in the conviction that if you cannot win you can at the very least give the best of yourself.

At Wolves, plainly it is one that comes from the top man, one whose career continues to embody such a belief.

Irish Independent

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