Mick McCarthy’s recent return to Molineux brought up an array of mixed emotions from fans about the former Wolves gaffer. David Evans takes a look at whether any ill feelings against the Ipswich manager are justified.
Love or hate him, Mick McCarthy gave Wolves fans some of the most memorable years at our club in recent times. Revivals, promotions and champagne supernova’s, MM was the Irish Yorkshire man with a spring in his step, a cheeky smile and an attitude you didn’t want to cross.
Despite the glory days, many Wolves fans now despise him. Why? Because some feel that in his final days at the club he brought about a downfall which would drop the Molineux men into the third tier of English football. Many saw today’s 1-1 draw against Ipswich as a chance to take revenge and say a final goodbye to McCarthy’s era.To close a book on what was a fruitful yet sadly dark end to his tenure.
Despite a result which was worse for Wolves than the tractor boys, Mick’s calling card style of football ultimately grinded out the game to a draw.
Reading many social media comments in the build up, many fans were unhappy with the style of football MM brought to Molineux. A style which some felt set Wolves back.
Was McCarthy the architect of Wolves fall from grace in recent years? Did his final months leave the club in disarray? Does this overshadow what was some of the happiest days of supporting our club?
McCarthy’s time at Wolves
Mick McCarthy joined Wolves in the summer of 2006 following the departure of Glenn Hoddle shortly before the start of the season. With little to spend and a large group of players out of the club with their contracts expiring, MM had a big job on his hands.
Many predicted a bottom endscrap. Instead, Wolves surprised many of stormed to a top 6 finish. Wolves adopted a ‘young and hungry’ policy which injected pace into a side needing a speedy transfusion. Unknown conference entities such as Michael Kightly took the league by surprise. McCarthy’s battle hardened, quick wit attitude was a fresh breath of air at Molineux and soon won fans over.
Despite a play off semi final defeat to arch rivals West Brom, many fans weren’t fussed with a side who were no where near ready for a Premier League campaign.
Buoyed by optimism, Wolves entered their second season under Mick and the first couple of months it seemed promising, especially with the signing of the then highly rated striker Freddy Eastwood. His appearances though would ultimately peter out. With the acquisition of Sylvan Ebanks Blake in January, it wasn’t enough as Wolves fell short to a seventh place finish and missed out on the playoffs to Watford by single goal.
Then came the pivotal third season. Wolves ramped up their summer spending by bringing in the likes of Richard Stearman and Chris Iwelumo to put right the wrongs from before. Wolves didn’t just have a top 6 squad now, they had one with depth and quality.
Wolves went top in September and never looked back. A slight wobble in December and January didn’t hinder their promotion hopes against chasers Birmingham City and Reading. Significant results against Nottingham Forest and Derby away led to a sunny Saturday afternoon at Molineux as Wolves 1-0 victory over QPR sealed promotion to the Premier League. A 2-2 draw with Barnsley away followed which would seal the league title.
Wolves were on the up. Mick had brought promotion to Wolves for the first time since six years. Healso did it without having to tangle with one of Wolves biggest enemies, the playoffs.
With a ‘put a shift in’ attitude, Wolves entered the Premier League. Wolves grinded out results against those around them. They recorded a significant double over Spurs and a near survival clinching drubbing over West Ham on an early spring night. Wolves finished 15th and the future looked bright under McCarthy.
Spending £15 million in the following summer, Wolves were the second highest spenders in that window behind the growing financial power of Man City. Wolves recruited key players from those who were relegated. In stepped Scotsman Steven Fletcher and Irish counterpart Stephen Hunt.
Wolves had a significantly stronger team but they could not produce the results against those around them, despite wins against Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool. To fans approval, Wolves loaned in Spurs Jamie O’Hara and he made a significant impact from day one. Scoring a free kick on his debut away to West Brom.
Kevin Doyle, who had been the lone star striker the previous season became injured with a few games to go. Out of favour Fletcher stepped in and fired Wolves back into the survival race. In a good run of form Wolves ended the season with a home tie to fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers. A win would seal another season in the Premier League. What could possibly go wrong?
What followed was a tour de force of emotions. Wolves were pinned back to a 3 goal deficit by half time. In the second half, goals from O’Hara and Hunt brought Molineux back to life. The game finished 3-2 but the single goal deficit was enough, with results elsewhere, to provide Wolves with another season in the Premier League.
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. But how many of us were contemplating this thought in the spring of 2010? Perhaps with the right man available Wolves could have pushed for a new manager. Mick McCarthy had helped Wolves seal a second successive season in the Premier League. Fans were elated, the city was overjoyed. Would the club really have taken this step? Think of the reaction Wolves would have received if McCarthy was asked to step down following such a dramatic last day of the season.
Southampton would take a bold step a couple of years later by replacing Nigel Adkins in the January to come with Pochettino. Controversy would follow but the end result would benefit the club and their significant rise in the Premier League.
Wolves entered their third Premier League campaign and what would be MM’s final season at Wolves. Roger Johnson came in and replaced Karl Henry as captain. Much to the delight of fans at the time. O’Hara also signed a permanent deal. This is where it would all go downhill.
Wolves were upstaged by the modern football and surprise packages Norwich and Swansea brought. With a lack of signings, they relied on their Championship winners to step up. But, this would not be the case.
Results would be thin and far to come by despite promising draws to Arsenal and Spurs away. In February, Wolves entertained West Brom at Molineux in a must win tie. A 5-1 defeat would not only be one of the darkest days at Molineux, it would be the end of Mick McCarthy’s time at Wolves.
Losing to your arch rivals in such fashion at home will have been one of the many reasons why McCarthy received his P45. But with no transfer window to use and three months of the season remaining, this was a gamble.
What followed was an embarrassing two-week recruitment campaign, leading to assistant Terry Connor being promoted to manager. No wins out of the remaining thirteen games, Wolves were relegated and finished bottom of the Premier League in May 2011.
What state did McCarthy leave Wolves in?
Mick had a squad that wanted to play for him. Although Wolves were second best for most of their final Premier League campaign, you could still tell that this group wanted to play for Mick. But a squad which was used to ‘route one’ football and lacked experienced Premier League quality would be their undoing.
This team had earned the right to play Premier League football, from promotions to survivals. But a lack of turnaround from either Mick or the club meant that Wolves started to lag behind. It was becoming a team of Championship players overachieving. Mick could have been too faithful to his Championship winning side.
Rather than recruiting either experienced Premier League players or those which displayed a higher quality, Wolves purchased the best out of a bad bunch from the relegated teams. As Wolves continued to stay in the Premier League, they were not progressing the personnel on the field.
But on the flip side, the board may not have given Mick the funds he needed to progress the team further. This article from Tim Nash back in February 2011 showcases the names Wolves were offered but for one reason or another didn’t purchase.
For who is to blame for a lack of transfers, we may never know.
The side became too used to one style of football. Something which one of McCarthy’s successors, Stale Solbakken, would experience. Despite a positive start, McCarthy’s hybrid squad would struggle with the patient passing football the Scandinavian would bring and would lead to his own dismissal come the start of 2013.
Perhaps they were too used to McCarthy’s management style and a drastic change was too much.
It was a change of style that Wolves needed, but everyone involved was probably not ready for. It would take a drop into League One for Wolves to re-group, re-brand and revive under a new head coach in Kenny Jackett and for him to bring about a style of football many desired.
McCarthy’s long ball tactics aren’t attractive, but it gets results. McCarthy builds teams that are hard to beat. He can bring results which on the scoreline are narrow, but brings home the points needed. Sometimes you have to put the graft in the hard way before you reaps the rewards in the future.
How about McCarthy’s brigade now?
Key players such as Fletcher, Kightly and Jarvis went on to continue their Premier League journey. Some like Henry and Ward would stick around and eventually joining the top flight with different teams. Johnson and O’Hara would be late to the party and decide to leave via the back door. Some of these players would still to this day continue their career in the Premier League.
So, were they really below par if teams have picked them up in the top flight?
No. Players like Fletcher and Jarvis possessed a talent that deserved to stay in the top flight. But as the years have gone, these players have either continued to fight for survival or are unable make a first team sheet. It’s strange to see that Burnley’s current squad possesses a fair number of Wolves players who won the Championship title in 2009.
The McCarthy Era
Mick may now have a chance to achieve promotion with Ipswich. It may be that MM has learned from his mistakes in the past. A battling side is what you need when you start life in the Premier League, but a lack of progression will take you further back.
You may not like Mick McCarthy, but you cannot dismiss what he did for our club over the years. McCarthy is probably one of the many factors as to why Wolves slipped down the football hierarchy in recent years, but he is not the only reason.
A chance for closure for some will have to wait for at least another season. Mick McCarthy’s stay at Wolves may have ended in a way we didn’t want to see, but I for one will be thankful for the memories he has given me when watching the team from WV1.