How Mick McCarthy Let Wolves Down

11 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   December 16, 2009  |     10

Forty-two pounds is a lot of money. It’s more than someone working full-time on the minimum wage earns in a day. It was also the cost of a ticket for Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters that wanted to go to see their team at Old Trafford in the Premier League last night. They may now be wondering why they bothered. Part of the rationale that is frequently given by managers that a desperately scrapping to get there in the first place is that they want the experience of “playing the best as equals” (or variants thereupon), but that can hardly be said to have been what happened last night asĀ  Wolves played supine rather than lupine in fielding a second string team to take on a Manchester United side that was off colour but still allow to stroll to a 3-0 win.

This is being seen by some as sort of moral victory for the Wolves manager Mick McCarthy, but the truth is somewhat more complex than that. Wolves already had the worst goal difference apart from Hull City of anybody in the bottom six, and a further minus three on that tally can hardly be said to have improved matters. Regardless of this, the Wolves first team stretched every sinew in winning 1-0 at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, a result that seriously dented Spurs’ chances of being able to snatch a Champions League place this season. This was a result that was not far short of as big a surprise as their snatching a point at Old Trafford last night would have been, but it does illustrate the moral complexity of such a decision. Why should Manchester United be given an even easier time of it than Arsenal or Chelsea were?Mick McCarthy has a moral obligation to play his strongest possible team in every match this season.

Quite aside from the issue of moral obligations (which can be debated at length and with the full knowledge that McCarthy’s only moral obligation is to Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club), there are also practical considerations to take into account. One of the biggest differences between the Premier League and the Championship (aside, obviously, from the quality of the teams) is the length of the season. The forty-six match Championship season allows some room for error. The thirty-eight match Premier League season throws every single match into a much harsher glare. The room for error is marginal. Maybe every match should be treated as an opportunity to win points rather than a contractual obligation in which the primary aim is to avoid some sort of humiliation. Hull City, for example, would have been relegated had it not been for unlikely wins at Arsenal and Spurs last season.

It is also worth returning to the question of what Wolverhampton people may or may not have been looking forward to this season, because this includes the players. They may have an understanding of the broader issue of the rest of the season, but who can say for sure what the effect the disappointment of not having the chance to play at Old Trafford will have on those that missed out? What McCarthy seems to have done is heaped pressure upon Sunday’s match against Burnley – a Burnley side which, let us not forget, beat Manchester United at Turf Moor earlier this season. Burnley entertain Arsenal tonight – they may well lose this match, but we can be reasonably certain that they will do their outmost to win. That seems to be the philosophy of their manager, Owen Coyle, and, although they only sit two points above Wolves in tweflth place in the table, the fact that they are making such a fight of things on even more limited resources than Wolves seems to vindicate Coyle’s beliefs.

McCarthy won’t know whether the ploy has definitely worked until the end of the season, and the justification for it remains morally suspect regardless of this. It is impossible to consider last night’s events without thinking of the travelling supporters that spent a small fortune travelling from the Black Country (or wherever) only to see a team that was effectively their reserves lose. Football supporters – especially those that follow smaller clubs – exist on hope, that one in ten thousand chance that they will get to say “I was there when we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford”. Wolves haven’t won their for thirty years now, and they have spent precious few of the intervening years with so much as the opportunity of breaking that particular unwanted record. We can’t say with anything like certainty how many more chances they’ll get over the next, say, five or ten years or so, and the harsh truth of the matter is that they are not much more likely to stay up this season as a result of Mick McCarthy playing his second string team against Manchester United last night.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • December 16, 2009 at 11:24 am


    Another sad day for English football as a team effectively gives up before the game. Macarthy actually comes across as a decent guy but he’s got this one seriously wrong. It just illustrates once again the massive differences between the top few and the rest of the league. If this had been the Johnstones Paint Trophy (ha!)Wolves would have been fined for these actions. But hey what do Scudamore and his buddies care about competition and fairness in sport, as long as the “shareholders” get their profits that’s all that matters…

  • December 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm


    If his entire team from the weekend was knackered then he probably did play the players with the best chance of getting a result. I’m not saying I believe for a minute they were ALL knackered but who is to say that the ‘best’ XI wouldn’t have lost 4-0? Or more. Wigan’s bets XI shipped nine at White Hart Lane yet Wolves won on the same ground just 2 weeks later. The argument is pointless, or akin to ‘how long is a piece of string’? There is no rhyme nor reason why Kettering could hold Leeds for 180 minutes and then ship 4 in 20 minutes in extra time of the replay. Oh, hang on, there is, it’s because they were knackered. I’m not saying I disagree with all of the argument, there is a devil’s advocate role to be played, but it does strike me as a ludicrous argument when the top 4 all leave out star playerse against lower ranked sides, all the time. Squad rotation I think Fergie and Rafa call it.

  • December 16, 2009 at 5:40 pm


    I Seem to remember a number of teams in the premiership putting out weak sides in the past, normally when they thought the opposition was poor or European games were looming ahead. I guess they were prioritizing their matches in the same way as Wolves were, the only difference being a fight for glory against that of relegation.
    I have a great deal of sympathy towards the Wolves fans who are the real loosers in this instance as they would have undoubtedly bought their tickets before any idea of playing a second string team had even been muted by Mick McCarthy. Bet they will think twice in the future against similar opposition.
    However, I guess it is for the manager to manage his assets in any way he sees fit and not the premiership who would make a decision based on it’s own interests and not those of Wolves.
    In the end McCarty will be judged by the fans and board members of the club far more harshly than the league by lower attendance figures or the usual managerial sackings should this policy fall flat on it’s face.

  • December 16, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Gervillian Swike

    Of course I understand Mick McCarthy’s reasons, but I still think they’re wrong. What is the point of being in the Premiership if not to relish testing yourself against the top teams? If Wolves show no interst in these games, but reserve it all for the ones against Hull, Burnley, Stoke, West Ham, etc. they needn’t have bothered putting themselves out for the promotion, they could have just hung around in the Championship and waited a few years, they’d have seen these teams sooner or later. No need for a big wage bill, hikes in ticket prices, none of that; more wins against teams from lower down in the table, marvellous. But instead, get to the Premiership, “manage your resources”, and tuck into the the glory of the very occasional win, and the opportunity to see your full team out against mid- and lower-table sides next year, in between regular hammerings. No, it doesn’t stack up for me. I wouldn’t be happy with that.

    I felt the same when Bolton played a reserve side in the UEFA Cup – why bother striving to qualify for it if you’re not interested in it when you get there? I remember Reading played a reserve side in the FA Cup a year or two back, a trophy they had a chance of winning, their only realistic shot at glory (because that’s what football’s about, not money, sharing in a bit of glory). They went down. Nothing against Wolves fans, who must surely be angry about this, but I hope their team go down now too. I wish Man United had got off their lazy asses and taught Mick McCarthy a lesson and stuck ten past his team.

  • December 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Tom - Chicago

    What was the likelihood that Wolves would have gotten 1 pt vs United?

    If I’m McCarthy and I’m looking at this 3 game stretch, I’m thinking I’m ecstatic to get 4 points from Spurs, Utd, Burnley. He has 3 in the bank and wants to maximize his take on the 3 games. If he believes his players, rested, will have a better chance of taking all 3 points against Burnley, he should rest his players. Unless you think his small squad is capable of playing 3 huge games on the trot, skinning Spurs and Utd on the road, I’d say his best chance to maximize points out of this period is to focus on Burnley, and get some depth and in-team scouting from the Utd game. His game theory is spot on given the win at Spurs…

  • December 17, 2009 at 2:16 am


    I just hope Wolves get relegated now with another, “top four” team playing a weakened side which is beaten by on of their relegation competitors.

    See how much Mick McCarthy likes that.

  • December 17, 2009 at 9:23 am


    I would love to know what Mick McCarthy said, before kick-off, to the 11 players he sent out to play at Old Trafford. Something along the lines of ‘OK lads, you’re not the best we’ve got, and I’m expecting you to lose just as much as everyone else is, so get out there, run around for 90 minutes, and lose!’

  • December 17, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    How Mick McCarthy Let Wolves Down « Scissors Kick

    […] take on a Manchester United side that was off colour but still allow to stroll to a 3-0 win.” (twohundredpercent) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The right to shuffle the pack of WolvesObligatory […]

  • December 17, 2009 at 7:48 pm


    I think MM cheated his own supporters, he cheated his own players, he cheated the television audience, and he cheated the other teams in the premier league who have to work hard for their points.

    See my post

  • December 18, 2009 at 11:34 am


    “cheated the television audience”? Personally, I’d put the tv audience way down the list of priorities. Everything is laid on a plate for them and by and large they contribute little that’s worthwhile to the game.
    I sympathise with the travelling Wolves fans but at the same time I think they have to wake up to the realities of life in the Prem. If they want their team to stay up then they have to back McCarthy in focussing his relatively limited resources on those games where there is a realistic chance of getting a favourable result.

  • May 21, 2012 at 8:33 am


    Can I just make the point that by the end of the season most of the “second string” players managed to crack the first team, some were recovering from injuries and others were genuinely better than “first stringers”. This further complicates the moral absolutist positions on this.

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