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McCarthy’s No Genius, So How Come Wolves Are Going Up?

If I asked 23 fans who individually supported all the teams of the Championship except Wolves whether they would welcome Mick McCarthy with a smile as their new manager, I suspect I could count the number of affirmative answers on my grubby little hand. At the end of last season, even a faction of Wolves fans would have been pleased to see him putting a deposit down on a nice country pub somewhere.


That seems unfair. Wolves have led the Championship for sustained periods this season. They are five clear of second and a further four clear of third. They will almost definitely be Champions. They will be in the Premier League next season.

Yet ask most fans if they’d want McCarthy at their club and enthusiasm would be hard to come by. A couple would bite your hand off (Charlton for a start, but they’d probably take Dave Bassett right now). A few might wrinkle their noses but grudgingly accept him (Blackpool, Norwich, Plymouth) but the rest? Thanks but no thanks.

Some clubs who like to think they have a tradition of passing football might not fancy McCarthy’s style while simultaneously dreaming of his success (QPR and Ipswich). Others simply already have arguably better managers in place (Bristol City, Swansea).

The facts are that outside of one or two harrowing Premier League experiences, Mick tends to deliver. Roy Keane might have struggled to respect him as manager of Ireland, but at least back then they  qualified for tournaments – they haven’t done since he left over six years ago.

Like a string of modern British managers such as George Burley, Neil Warnock, Tony Pulis, Dave Jones and Steve Coppell, McCarthy knows how to win in the Championship. Yet despite their successes, these are names almost definitely not even considered  for the still-vacant Portsmouth job.

That is because without a top quality manager (hello, Middlesbrough!), things go very wrong very quickly in the Premier League and catastrophic results can follow for years afterwards.  Look at that list above and all have had a brief flirtation in the top flight only to be spat out pretty quickly. In the Championship, having a highly charismatic tactical genius in charge is not quite so necessary.

McCarthy’s ‘secret’ is pretty simple: Strikers – with the emphasis on the plural. At QPR, Ian Holloway once said he liked to ‘rack and stack’ his strikers because he knew (his time at Bristol Rovers with Bobby Zamora, Jamie Cureton, Barry Hayles and Jason Roberts proved it) that you can see an average team become promotion material as long as you have a couple or more players capable of turning one point into three. While that’s fine for the Championship, it is rarely good enough for the Premier League and a reason, perhaps, why some managers seem unable to make that extra step.

What McCarthy, Coppell and the rest know is that it’s not about having that one fabled 20-goal a season striker. You need three or more who might nick 45-50 between them.  Look at the great Reading team that walked the league in 2006, 16 points ahead of their nearest challenger. It wasn’t just Leroy Lita. It was Lita, Dave Kitson, Shane Long and Kevin Doyle. Hull ended last season with Caleb Folan, Frazier Campbell, Dean Windass and Nick Barmby. West Brom had Roman Bednar, Kevin Phillips and Ishmael Miller. Sunderland before them juggled Anthony Stokes, David Connolly, Daryl Murphy and Stern John – with Dwight Yorke in midfield for good measure.

At the end of last season, McCarthy had Michael Kightly, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Sam Vokes, but he added Chris Iwelumo and revitalised him after a tough time at Charlton. When Kightly and Iwelumo faltered a little recently, he went out and fought off all the competition to get Marlon Harewood on loan from Villa, just to make sure.

McCarthy has successfully followed a popular formula. The Wolves are going up and it didn’t take a genius to take them to the top. The real skill is going to be keeping them in the top flight for longer than the one tough year they had earlier this decade.

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  1. OFELIA30Morris

    August 10, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    It is perfect that we can take the business loans and it opens up completely new chances.

  2. William

    April 16, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Right now only the bitterest, most twisted Wolves fan would swap McCarthy for ANY manager, given that they’re virtually guaranteed promotion. Were Wolves in mid-table though it’d obviously be a completely different picture – in that scenario I’d happily take Pulis or Brown, and at a pinch Mowbray though his WBA connections would undoubtedly make him an unpopular choice.

    I’m an admirer of all four managers as they’re all clearly very good at what they do. It’s a shame that West Brom have struggled financially this season as I think they’re only a couple of players away from being a very handy side.

    Perhaps I’m biased, but I think McCarthy’s the best of the four (his second CCC winners medal is virtually in the bag, after all), although Mowbray and Brown are more inexperienced and may prove to be capable of greater success. Out of the four teams, I’d say that Hull are the only club that have exceeded everyone’s expectations after coming from nowhere to go up; prior to this season, Pulis and Mowbray’s achievements were about par for the course I’d say.

  3. Dan Trelfer

    April 16, 2009 at 6:29 am

    Cheers William and Toby – plenty of excellent points in there. William, I think there’s a really good debate about McCarthy’s standing in the game. I probably edited out some points in my original attempt at the article about McCarthy’s success, but I do point out McCarthy’s success for both Ireland and Sunderland. Perhaps I misjudged general opinion towards McCarthy and I would say that mopst fans of other clubs probably admire his honesty and his passion for the game.

    The question of ‘who would you swap managers with’ is an interesting one. If I were to ask a Wolves fan if s/he would swap McCarthy for Pulis, Mowbray or Phil Brown I suspect I’d have very few takers, yet all out-performed Wolves last season. For what it’s worth, I’d probably take McCarthy over all of that lot!

    Still, an interesting debate and it will be fascinating to see how Wolves get on next season. I would wish you luck against QPR on Sat, but something tells me you won’t need it…

  4. William

    April 16, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Ok Dan, thanks for your response. I think you could’ve made your opinions on McCarthy clearer as this post comes across as anti-McCarthy, as I insinuated. Perhaps you could’ve chosen a better title than ‘McCarthy’s no genius’. You should also have mentioned that you thought that the general perception of McCarthy is unfair in your original post.

    I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to judge how many fans would like McCarthy as their manager when they currently have managers in place – it’d be worthwhile asking if their clubs were managerless. Alex McLeish and Neil Warnock are currently very unpopular at their clubs and I believe that should their positions become vacant they’d accept McCarthy with open arms, if he was available. Reading fans are also becoming increasingly disgruntled with Steve Coppell.

    Watford and Derby both have unproven managers and to a certain extent are still on their ‘honeymoon periods’, so whilst they may not be at home to having McCarthy as their manager right away, Brendan Rodgers and Nigel Clough are popular because they haven’t suffered any major setbacks in their short time as managers. Should Derby still be lingering at the bottom half of the CCC in one year’s time then it’ll be a different story. Asking fans whose club is currently successful is, I think, misleading. Burnley and Cardiff are having great seasons with good managers but their fans probably had lower expectations – reaching the play-offs is a significant achievement for both clubs. Sheffield United fans won’t want to swap Blackwell because they’re on the verge of promotion. I’m fairly convinced that most football fans with a knowledge of the game would welcome McCarthy as their manager, should their club have a vacancy and should McCarthy be available. It’s worth remembering that a lot of football fans are quite quick to judge situations based on what they read in the red tops. This makes a lot of fans oblivious to actual fact and, indeed, McCarthy’s track record. He mostly gets remembered for falling out with Roy Keane (mostly Keane’s fault: Keane has a track record of falling out with people everywhere he’s been; McCarthy doesn’t) and his time at Sunderland. People tend to forget his achievements: what happened to Millwall when he left? Relegation. What happened to RoI? Haven’t qualified for a major tournament since he left. Sunderland still retain some players that McCarthy brought in, most notably Nyron Nosworthy and their captain, Dean Whitehead. So whilst some fans may not like McCarthy, I think this is based more on ill-conceived preconceptions rather than reasoned fact. A lot of Wolves fans don’t like him, but a lot of Wolves fans are quite thick. (Browse through the BBC 606 Wolves page to see evidence of this).

    QPR fans are strange as they all seemed to expect immediate promotion because of their wealthy owners. Give QPR fans the choice between steady progression under McCarthy or the farcical merry-go-round they’ve had this season then I’m sure they’d choose the former.

    With regard to the strikers debate, Reading brought in Dave Kitson, but to what effect? He’s scored once and their form has become even worse. Birmingham have scored 17 (!) less goals this season but are seven points and three places better off. I stand by my point that no area of the pitch is any more important than another. I believe that Wolves have scored the most goals not because they have many strikers (they don’t – four, or five including Harewood, is what you’d expect in a squad with Wolves’ ambition) but because their team is set up to play adventurously. This also explains why they’ve conceded a fair few as they’re left open at the back because of the emphasis on attack. Wolves’ big January signing was a central defender and their return to form in the last month and a half has coincided with the return of Jody Craddock (Wolves’ most experienced central defender) and the signing of Christophe Berra. Wolves have kept five clean sheets in the last seven games, which has kept them at the top.

    Wolves have had a season of two halves: before Christmas they won a lot of games by playing attacking, adventurous football. Since Christmas, they’ve ground out scrappy wins by one-goal margins based on a solid defensive back line. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has been their only regular goalscorer; Chris Iwelumo and Michael Kightly have both only scored once since the end of November. My point is that balance is crucial: Wolves have had a balanced squad all season and McCarthy has found a formula to win games; QPR have an unbalanced squad (and off the pitch they’re a joke); their record this season could easily be the other way around: Ipswich and Bristol City have both scored and conceded far more, but have similar points totals. Doncaster have scored the least in the division, but are in a very healthy position.

    Sorry for the very long post and well done if you read to the end! This is a very interesting debate.

  5. Toby

    April 16, 2009 at 3:45 am

    Excuse my fellow wanderers, I think you’ve hurt their feelings.

    You make some interesting suggestions here, it’s true that we’ve gone from a side which fell the wrong side of the play-offs last season to a team on the summit of the premiership seemingly by adding strikers. Though I think on balance a little more credit can be payed to our general style of play this season, because it’s developed and changed over this year.

    For one, I think one of the main reasons we’re where we are, and why we’ve been in the automatic promotion places since September has quite a lot to do with our fantastic fitness levels, over the summer, our club physio had all of the players working on a schedule, we started back early and players were fined for every pound they returned over weight, in fact, no players returned heavier, they were all lighter, they were all fitter. When other teams fade in the last fifteen minutes, we’ve still got gas in the tank.

    Of course, our strikers have been a huge factor, yet, I don’t think this is a negative thing, it’s how you get out of this division, we could all aspire to Baralonaesque total football but that’s not exactly realistic on a tuesday night away to Doncaster, sometimes you just need players who know where the back of the net is.

    I think it’s easy for neutrals or people who don’t follow wolves to see our form since December and really question why we’re where we are, and it’s a fair question. It’s because prior to December, we blew nearly every team away with 3-4-5 – nil games. The reason why we’ve been far less effective after the christmas break is that now people know about us, and park the team coach infront of the goal, we’ve been found out and have struggled to adapt to a new tactic, but that’s football, look how effective Hull’s hit and run style was in the early stages of the Premiership as to how it is now?

    Well, I’m going to shush now. Good article! Got my brain ticking over…of course as a Wolves fan living in blissful pre-promotion land I obviously completely disagree! Haha, if you’re interested in more Wolves atricles that’s me!

  6. Dan Trelfer

    April 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks very much for taking the time to write comments – much appreciated and good points all. I’d like to offer a few rejoinders:

    1. You all seem to be under the impression that this is somehow an anti-McCarthy piece. It’s not – far from it.
    2. William, I certainly don’t think Wolves have hoofed their way to the top. They are the best side in the division. The best sides do not ‘hoof their way to the top’. When referring to McCarthy’s ‘style’ I was referring to the unfair perception of his general style that fans of other clubs possibly hold.
    3. William, of course strength in depth is important all over the pitch, but defenders tend, on the whole, to be easier to replace for short periods of time than strikers – and strikers, of course, are always much in demand. QPR have conceded a full 10 less goals than Wolves this season, but they have nothing up front and so are 10 places lower in the table! With a forward line of Lita, Long, Hunt and Doyle, Coppell STILL felt the need to bring Kitson back. That is ample eveidence for why strikers are so important.
    4. As for who would want McCarthy, well that was based on research amongst friends and my own opinion. Certainly I don’t believe Birmingham, Reading, Burnley, Sheff U, Cardiff, Bristol C, Palace, Watford or Derby would swap. That’s nine. I know most QPR fans would not be enthused by him and my Ipswich friends were pretty non-committal too – but that is exactly the point I was making – why do fans of clubs like QPR turn their noses up at someone like McCarthy who ‘tends to deliver’ at this level? Is that not a valid question? Is it also not valid to ask why not a single Premier League club (Portsmouth is a good example) would be likely to consider approaching a 50-year-old former international manager whose team have been top of the Championship all season to take charge of their club? Perhaps, as you suggest, there is no good reason. Perhaps Pompey *should* have nicked him a couple of months ago…
    5. Tony, I’m not a football journalist and have never claimed to be. This is a blog site and was actually my first blog on the site. A large part of being a ‘blogger’ is to stimulate debate through opinion – it’s a shame you resorted to pithy insults rather than putting forward some valid points as William did.

  7. tony

    April 15, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Dan, you are a truly shocking football journalist. This is really pre-school stuff.

    I pity you.

  8. William

    April 15, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I would also disagree with your claim that most fans would not want Mick McCarthy as their club’s manager – do you have any evidence to back this up? Wolves have looked untroubled in winning the league this year and I think McCarthy would be welcome at the majority of clubs. In my opinion, McCarthy is in the top five managers currently in the Championship.

    People seem to rate McCarthy purely on his spell in the Premier League with Sunderland. Sure, this was a compete failure, but the fact the Sunderland’s board refused to back their manager with the funds for transfers and wages was surely a greater contributing factor in this.

  9. William

    April 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    You make reference to “McCarthy’s style” but don’t actually make it clear what you think this is. Given that you contrast it to “passing football” I assume that you’re under the impression that this season’s Wolves have hoofed their way to the top, which is entirely incorrect. I can’t speak for McCarthy’s time at other clubs aside from seeing a few RoI games on TV, but under McCarthy Wolves have played a swift attacking game based on using quick wingers to move the ball forwards at speed. We have some very technically gifted players (for this league, at least) and if you take the time to look at some Wolves’ goals this season on YouTube then I’m sure you’d agree.

    Your hypothesis about successful Championship managers having plenty of forwards is interesting, but I would argue that strength in depth all over the pitch is really the answer to success (yes, I did just state the obvious). The teams promoted from the Championship in recent years have all had very good defensive records as well as scoring plenty.

    You seem to have made up your mind about Mick McCarthy and then written this article to try and match it, but I think you should have done more research to back up your arguments. Sure, it might not take a genius to get a team promoted, but it certainly takes a very astute manager to do so in the way that Wolves have this year. How many other sides have been top, uninterrupted, for such a long stretch of the season? The Championship is usually a mch tighter league that it has been this season, where in truth, Wolves’ position at the top has been very comfortable since October. This is an achievement that should not be sniffed at and one for which McCarthy should be applaued.

  10. Darlowolf64

    April 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    WHAT A JERK! HAVE YOU SEEN WOLVES PLAY?? two wingers…Kights AND Jarvis,ball on the floor and using the pace of the wingers to get round the back and feed the forwards.That is what got Wolves to the top of the table,have a check and you’ll find that at the end of EVERY month this season Wolves were TOP! He took over after “THE GREAT” Glenn Hoddle and his “FANTASTIC FOOTBALLING SIDE” nearly played Wolves straight into League1! Shrewd buys mixing experience with young exciting players and not paying over the odds for over the hill oldies.A well structured wage policy and great scouting network are also paying dividends.Mick has done a great job and even the fans who were unsure about his appointment have had to accept he was the right man for the job.

  11. Fawny

    March 30, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Good observation re strikers Dan.

    I quite like McCarthy as it goes, bit of a “man of the people”, I reckon he understands football fans (having been at Millwall would have helped lol).

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