Mick the short term fix, here we go again.
Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS
While today’s announcement that Martin O’Neill & Roy Keane were stepping down as the Irish management team may have caught many of us off guard, one thing that has not only been of little shock but predicted by plenty is the immediate speculation of a return to the Ireland hot-seat for ex-boss Mick McCarthy. Even before the wheels started to fall off the O’Neill led wagon, McCarthy’s name and the Ireland job had began to become a regular conversation among followers of the “Boys in Green” as soon as the fifty-nine-year-old left Ipswitch Town at the end of last season. Despite the likes of Stephen Kenny, Chris Hughton, Lee Carsley and even Irish legend Robbie Keane been linked with the vacant national team position in the wake of O’Neill’s departure, it looks almost certain that it will be the man who guided Ireland into the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup that fills the void in the coming days.
Why does a McCarthy return seem to be gaining such traction among fans and FAI heads alike? Would it be unfair to suggest a certain sense of nostalgia is perhaps clouding many peoples judgement? Let’s take a look at McCarthy’s record post Ireland, as his previous success with the national team is already well established.
Appointed as Sunderland boss in March 2003, McCarthy was unable to rescue the “Blackcats” from relegation to the Championship but given the dire straits of the side upon his arrival at the club, McCarthy was given the opportunity to oversee a promotion push the following season. And to McCarthy’s credit, while he would fail narrowly in his attempt to bounce back at the first time of trying, Sunderland were promoted as champions in the 2004-05 season and with a hugely impressive points tally of 94. However, in what would be a reoccurring theme throughout McCarthy’s career the Sunderland boss struggled to adapt to life in the top-flight and was eventually replaced by none other than Roy Keane.
To McCarthy’s credit he showed strong character to bounce back from that blow and perhaps that is one of the traits that has earmarked him for this latest Ireland vacancy. Appointed as Wolverhampton Wanderers manager in the summer of 2006, McCarthy again slowly built a side for promotion, which was eventually achieved in the 2008-09 season, before becoming the first Wolves boss in thirty-years to secure safety in back to back top-flight seasons. And again, to McCarthy’s credit, many pundits will point to the clubs cost cutting measures as the main catalyst behind McCarthy’s eventual sacking in 2012, the league’s seventh longest serving manager at the time.
Moving on to Ipswich that same year, McCarthy would again play the long game, staying with the “Tractor Boys” until a rather messy divorce from the club in March of this year. Again, in McCarthy’s favor he has proven a loyal servant to the clubs that have employed him and with the FAI there is obviously a sense of familiarity.
However, McCarthy’s departure from the Championship side in March was driven by months of fans unrest over what the vast majority of fans felt was a very unattractive and uninspiring style of football, while McCarthy’s transfer and team selection policies also came under heavy fire. Many Irish supporters often claim the best brand of football Ireland have played in the modern era came under McCarthy’s watch but one must remember the players at his disposal were without a doubt Ireland’s “Golden Generation”. Shay Given, John O’Shea, Steve Finnan, Ian Harte, Matt Holland, Damien Duff, Robbie and Roy Keane, the list goes on. All genuine world class players operating at top class clubs. Now take a second to look at the current Irish dressing room that Mick McCarthy would be walking into. Take away Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy and Matt Doherty, how many of the remaining squad members can say they are playing their best football for their clubs at present? Not to mention the fact that the clubs providing us with these players are no longer title contenders or Champions League participants but relegation battlers or outside of the top league all together!
Football is a game that constantly evolves and those who fail to evolve with it soon find themselves on the outside, it could be argued McCarthy is a fine example of that. Clubs haven’t exactly been kicking the door down to appoint him despite a reasonably impressive track record. Let’s face it, the FAI have one goal and one goal in mind at present and that is to ensure qualification for Euro 2020 given the associations involvement in hosting part of the competition. You only have to look at the revenue generated in France two summers ago to realise how financially dependent the FAI are on taking part in major tournaments and as fans that’s of course what we want too. However, it has been this boom bust nature of Irish football short-sighted managerial appointments that have led to the greatest of greatest declines over the past twelve months.
Irish football’s problems go much deeper than the managers tactical short-comings. We are a nation that has relied on our neighbors in the UK to produce our players and now that the production line has dried up our leaders do not have the confidence or vision to nurture the talent that is right under their noses and right on our doorstep. The FAI have been more than happy to take credit for the decades over-due implementation of national underage leagues but despite the fact these leagues are already producing underage internationals, way ahead of scheduled expectation, these same players are being over looked once they reach the senior ranks because of a backward and snobbish mentality surrounding the League of Ireland.
Dundalk’s success and perhaps more importantly their style of play in Europe has proven to the average arm chair supporter that Irish players can be technically gifted and not all from the “put em under pressure” school of hard knocks. And while that unique fighting Irish and never say die attitude should always be accommodated, it is clear as a nation we can no longer rely on hard work alone.
Stephen Kenny’s recent comments on such matters paint a fine illustration of a potential fresh and exciting untested avenue Irish football can take should it wish to do so, however with the FAI seemingly obsessed with Euro 2020 qualification above all else, it seems quick fix Mick is the man we will all have to pin our hopes on come March of next year.
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