By all accounts he’s a decent guy, is Mick McCarthy. Unfortunately for him, such personality traits are seldom considered to be of great importance when deciding whether to keep the manager of a football club in his position, and his departure from Molineux after one of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ most embarrasssing results of recent years comes as little surprise.
Time has been up for McCarthy since the club’s owner, Steve Morgan, came into the dressing room after their recent home defeat by Liverpool and gave the players a piece of his mind. He did manage to earn himself a short-lived reprieve as a result of an unexpected win at Queens Park Rangers, but a five-one defeat at home against bitter local rivals proved too much for Morgan to bear.
McCarthy had spent a little over five and a half years at the club, which is a lifetime in comparison with the fragile job security that management offers these days. He managed to get to the end of part one of the Wolves quest for the holy grail by keeping them in the Premier League, but the last day of last season was unacceptably close to the wire, and it was clear from the summer that the club expected improvement on last season’s performance. This, Wolves supporters will hardly need reminding, has not been forthcoming. The severity of their defeat yesterday afternoon saw the club drop back into the relegation places with just fourteen matches of the season left to play, and with the congestion at the foot of the table bein what it is – with just two points now separating the bottom five, with a cavernous-looking gap above them to Aston Villa in fifteenth place in the table - Wolves could yet be at the bottom of the table within two or three weeks or so.
Yesterday afternoon, Wolves played with as little conviction as they have throughout much of the season. Bereft of shape, organisation or leadership, the watching viewer was left to ponder the possibility that motivation has now all but left the playing staff of the club. After all, if they couldn’t get their heads together for a home match against West Bromwich Albion, what hope is there for the rest of the season? The complaints have been coming thick and fast since the autumn, and the fact that the recent win at Queens Park Rangers was their first in any competition since the start of December – including a drab pair of matches against Birmingham City which resulted in their elimination from the FA Cup – speaks volumes for itself. Too often in recent weeks have Wolves been comprehensively outplayed. Too many have been the number of clubs that have found the going against them just a little too easy. Tactically out-thought and lacking in direction, once the motivation started to drift away from the team, there was little other action that Morgan could take.
On top of this, there have been rumours coming from the club that Morgan had had reservations over McCarthy’s continuing employment for some time. It has been suggested that dissatisfaction with last season’s performance was one of the motivating factors behind transfer funds being so thin on the ground for the club last summer and during the January transfer window. If this is the case, then a degree of responsibility for the club’s position should probably be borne by some people a little higher up the Wolves food chain than McCarthy was. After all, any manager coming into the club now, barely two weeks after the transfer window has slammed shut, will only have the squad that Mick built with until the end of the season. This may, of course, affect the calibre of candidate that will apply for the job, at least between now and the end of this season – and it is this period of time that most urgently needs to be attended to.
Of course, the problem that the owner now faces is that of which of the merry-go-round of available managers should replace McCarthy. The bookmakers have installed Steve Bruce and Neil Warnock as the early favourites, but the obvious thing to consider at this point is that of how managers that have already taken two Premier League clubs in relegation battles at the bottom of the Premier League (and Martin O’Neill’s subsequent success at Sunderland would seem to be proof that if there were shortcomings on the part of anybody at The Stadium of Light earlier this season, they were on the part of Bruce himself) might be able to improve the fortunes of a club that already finds itself in the middle of a relegation battle itself. If any degree of tactical sophistication is required to keep Wolves up, the likes of Bruce and Warnock can hardly be treated as any sort of panacea for the clubs current ills. There are also more imaginative solutions that Steve Morgan may look at – the name of Simon Grayson, recently sacked from Leeds United, springs to mind, as does that of Chris Hughton, who has been so effective in getting Birmingham City - but the dearth of currently available managers that would be capable of holding their own in the sort of predicament in which Wolves currently find themselves is striking, to say the least.
This dearth is at the heart of the broader malaise of the English game. The lack of UEFA-badged coaches has long been one of the FA’s darker little secrets – an indication of the failure of attempts to boost coaching numbers – and the recent debate over the nationality of the next national team manager thrown a harsh glare on the scope of the problem. Just as the number of people playing the game is falling off at amateur levels, so it is that the number of qualified coaches in this country remains considerably lower than abroad. How the FA can address this when they remain wearing the financial strait-jacket imposed by the cost of the Wembley Stadium construction is not a question that is easily answered, but we can see that there is an obvious need to boost these numbers, if only to attempt to foster a culture in which training, tactics, nutrition and the mental stability of players are put at the heart of their development.
Such considerations, however, are longer term issues and will not be overly taxing Wolves supporters this afternoon. A short-term fix is what is required at Molineux, if Wolves are to stand a chance of staying in the Premier League. The timing might not have been ideal, but there seems little defence to the charge that McCarthy had his chance to stabilise Wolves somewhere near the middle of the Premier League and wasn’t up to the job. The decision taken over who will succeed him will certainly be an interesting one, as it may signal the extent to which the senior management of the club believe survival in the Premier League for this season may be. There is, of course all still to play for in the race to avoid the drop at the end of this season. If Wolves are to haul themselves clear of the mess in which they currently find themselves, a little imagination in terms of replacing Mick McCarthy may just end up going a long way.
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