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How Mick McCarthy Accelerated His Own Departure
Written by HarryfromBath on Sunday, 1st Apr 2018 10:44

HarryFromBath charts how three aspects of Mick McCarthy’s management style may have conspired to play a significant role in his exit from the club.

Celebrity adulation has never ceased to fascinate me. On so many occasions working in the book trade I have seen readers walking up to a beloved author with trepidation to get a book signed with the author smiling benignly at a stranger who feels they have a deep connection with them.

If this seems rather odd, think of what it must be like for football managers. Replace beloved readers for a thousand or so passionate supporters lacking patience and perspective, many with only a basic and tangential knowledge of playing the game, and you are in an irrational world most of the time.

As a Dubliner with a deep admiration for Mick following his 2002 World Cup exploits and with a sad enthusiasm for small tactical details, his arrival at Ipswich in 2012 was delightful. Press conferences were littered with pearls of wisdom and his small tactical adjustments during games were manna from heaven. I was secretly and romantically hoping for a successful cup run and a statue.


Three things marked out Mick’s management style. He was intuitively strong at spotting and quickly nullifying opposition threats and dangers, often making switches or substitutions within seconds as he had anticipated an opposing manager's chess moves. The prioritising of the elimination of risk was vital in his early days as a chaotically inherited team needed organising and structure.

The concept of control was a strong motif in his world both on and off the pitch. His paternalistic style quickly became apparent, and when I brought my partner to watch our Jonny Williams-inspired win over Derby in 2014, she noted how tactical discipline played an over-arching role in the side’s make-up, with only Williams and Stephen Hunt expressing their personality with any great freedom.

The control paradigm stretched into the close collegiate world of his dressing room. I have heard ex-players talk time and again about creating strong bonds of trust on the pitch, and this was pivotal in Mick’s thinking. It was also possible to be excluded from this world. The departures of Michael Chopra and JET were unsurprising and we all nodded knowingly when Cameron Stewart was quietly sidelined.


Little did we realise at the time but it was also possible for fans to be excluded from this close-knit world. The first obvious instances were Mick’s disagreements with supporters after the August 2016 defeat at Brentford and the drawn Norwich game at Portman Road two weeks later. I remember being horrified about the Brentford incident in particular but it was to be the start of a pattern.

As other teams overtook us and the football stagnated in the 2016/17 season, there was a growing schism between Mick and an increasing proportion of the fanbase. Every so often there would be an emetic release such as after the humiliation at Lincoln in the FA Cup. The fanbase also grew ever more divided with the manager’s approach becoming as defensive off the pitch as the teams on it.

It has to be said that our growing relative weakness on the pitch in the division didn’t help. As we declined in status from promotion hopefuls, the former certainties of being organised and efficient took hold. We reverted to a grim version of the unbalanced team Mick reshaped after his arrival, getting safe and grinding out results. Nullifying opponents became the objective in many games.


Mick’s growing hostility to the fans was a shock in the 2016/17 season and it established a pattern which really took hold in this campaign, alienating an increasing proportion of the wider and more patient fanbase. Looking back now, I believe his foul-mouthed outburst after our win at Burton in October drove an immovable wedge between him and the supporters and sealed his fate.

“Bobby Robson would have turned in his grave if he thought that any Town manager would speak like that.” It wasn’t just middle-of-the-road fans who were confused by now. Loyal diehards such as myself felt that we were getting the Cameron Stewart treatment. The gently inquisitive local press was being treated with defensiveness, suspicion and occasional hostility as the weeks went by.

Things came to a head around the Sheffield United and Hull games this month, but the outcome was inevitable in hindsight. In a game which was crying out for an Ian Holloway approach, Mick decided to take the cautious route against the Blades – matching up opponents and stopping them playing – as one poster described it this weekend, trying to mug a 1-0 win built on solid heroic defending.

The wins over Watford and Aston Villa will linger long in the memory, but you cannot build a play-off or promotion campaign on these foundations. It felt like Mick had given up on promotion when the supporters had not, and it also felt as if his circling the wagons on the pitch after the Hull defeat was the moment he lost the remaining fans. He didn’t lose the dressing room, but he lost everyone else.


This potential divide between the dressing room and the supporters is a source of profound danger. One of the most telling moments in Thursday’s press conference was Mick’s reflexive “absolutely” when asked if Bart or Jonas might rethink renewing their contracts. In Mick’s thinking, they were in his world and not ours, so why should they be loyal to the club or its supporters?

I felt that the other telling and related moment in that conference was when he highlighted the pattern of decline and relegation after he left previous clubs, but this may not be a surprise given how his approach here mirrored his time both at Wolves and Sunderland. I ran my thinking past fans of both clubs and it wasn’t long before they were finishing sentences for me.

The arc of Mick’s time here will be repeated at his next club. He is a brilliant football man who will panel-beat a team into shape, get them organised and win the crowd. Once the cold winds of adversity start to blow again, I fear that a fatal combination of a desire to control everything on and off the pitch coupled with the growing exclusion of anyone perceived to be against him is a toxic blend that will always doom him to failure.

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classicblue added 10:56 - Apr 1
very true Harry

osborne added 11:08 - Apr 1
That's an excellent summary of Mick, his strengths and weaknesses, and what has happened at Portman Road. Ironically, that's the kind of manager we probably need again to regalvanise this group of players to keep us in the championship next season.
Kind of a Catch22 situation now as the alternative would be a new squad and brand of football that would cost far more than Marcus would be willing to stump up for.

LoughtonBlue added 11:18 - Apr 1
Harry, you should pick the next manager, not Harry Rednapp

IamSpartacus added 11:19 - Apr 1
Quality, Harry..... and didn't even need to mention his abuse of Town fans at Norwich.

The annoying thing is that McCarthy clearly made some very good signings, was able to do a fair amount with comparatively little & all ITFC fans wanted was to be considered important to the club & manager -AND- to be slightly more progressive in style of play. Both attainable.

A demise very much brought on by his own hand, and showing a pattern in behaviour at all clubs.

Ryorry added 12:23 - Apr 1
Brilliant analysis, wonderfully written. Thanks Harry.

wallyvincent added 12:58 - Apr 1
Harry I think you have nailed most of my thoughts way more eloquently than I could. Thank you sir!

Superfrans added 13:08 - Apr 1
Really excellent piece Harry. One thing which you don’t really allude to, but which I also think is behind Mick’s deteriorating relationship with the fans, is in another side of the team ethic he tries to build. Mick’s teams are all for one, one for all, all in it together - world weary cliches, but very true about him and his squad. And when you’re that kind of squad, with that “we win together, we lose together” attitude, it must come as some shock when a fanbase turns in on them in the way that some have.

ronnyd added 13:15 - Apr 1
Spot on there Harry.

No9 added 13:42 - Apr 1
Thanks for that Harry, the only thing I would say is that what you put in your last but one paragraph is pertinent to the whole MM scenario but, what did surprise me is that he didn't turn sooner.

Taricco_Fan added 14:48 - Apr 1
Superbly-written assessment of the situation.

As a Wolves-supporting colleague of mine said not long into McCarthy's tenure at Ipswich: "it will end in tears".

Kropotkin123 added 15:05 - Apr 1
When he points to clubs always being relegated after he leaves, he says this as though the person after him is always worse. I personally feel that he gets teams playing such negative /defensive football that it is hard to make a transition to positive/attacking football, without getting turned over.

I think this is true, even when he has tried to play attractive football. For example getting smashed 5-1 against Reading was in essence because you are asking players to suddenly forget what they have been drilled to do for years, and do something else.

My one hope from all this, is that we realise we will probably go backwards, before we move forwards, as for some players there is 6 years of defence orientated football. We need to look at the positives a manager such as Mowbray achieves, and not just give them time, but also support them. This is not the quick-fix it looks like from the ouside

brittaniaman added 16:10 - Apr 1
Dino might have got in some good players, But he also brought in a lot of dud ones as well who had to have there contracts paid up as they left ???
As he is still here (even though he is going) we hope he will not damage ITFC.

tractorboybig added 16:25 - Apr 1
MM was not the man for the job in the first place, nor was keane nor was Jewell, Unfortuantly evans has no concept of what Ipswich was and what us supporters and share holders want. I fear his next appointment will be in the same vain. a sort of mm 'V' to the long suffering plebs who sit in the stands.

RoyalAscotBlue added 19:48 - Apr 1
Nice to hear more of your own words Harry. Not that I don’t appreciate your usual efforts.

Edmundo added 19:49 - Apr 1
Awesome, eloquent and incisive blog. Thanks once again Mr Harry

itsonlyme added 20:34 - Apr 1
Well said Harry! Such a shame he is not on gardening leave.

wilnisfan added 02:07 - Apr 2
Overall he did the job expected of him when he arrived. Keep us up, stabilise, find cost efficient players and inject youth products into the squad. However as time went on the lack of quality in the squad contributed the over reliance of a defensive focus, and when we do attack we become fragile defensively.

Not reinvesting the monies from 8m Mings was a mistake and was when we started losing it. Believing in FFP really effed us up. Selling Murph and not getting an immediate replacement lined up was the final straw.


westernblue added 09:23 - Apr 2
Fair and insightful piece, as usual, Harry. You refer to MM's press conference last Thursday. This also worried me. At the earlier conference - following the announcement that the manager and ME had spoken and that MM was to go - the public message being given out was that there was a mutual parting of the ways. Since then, however, MM's statements (around the Brum game) suggest a deepening stage of disinterest, even hostility. This may be part arrogance and hurt pride - but in part may also be understandable. What though should be unacceptable to ME is the tosh about what Bart or Jonas may as a result be thinking about their future, and any wider impact upon the squad. This suggests that the element of bunker mentality is likely to grow. I had thought that it was fair enough for ME to leave things be till the end of the season. But perhaps ME should now consider that in the interests of all concerned - club, players, ITFC supporters, MM himself - that MM to be allowed to leave asap.

itsonlyme added 13:40 - Apr 2
Well said Westernblue! For the sake of everything let him go now.

therein61 added 14:21 - Apr 2
Excellent read Harry!

Suffolkboy added 17:45 - Apr 2
Harry , I really appreciate this insightful script : BUT when things go wrong, and much more importantly when they perceptively start to go wrong , you need to be able to look upwards to the top ,both for guidance ,advice and assistance .This simply doesn't happen these days at ITFC , it's not the way we're used to , at least as long term supporters who remember the considered ,supportive and elegant presence of the then board led by the Cobbolds.Evans and Milne simply don't operate in the same theatre ,or arena and the latter ,as MD , is pathetically limp in both word and deed ; seldom ,it appears ,seen and infrequently heard ; there's much to be improved and put right at ITFC ,but I doubt we'll see the attention to detail, man management and funding that is desperately needed.
With a litany of injuries ,against a slim squad , the smallest of budgets , a loan system that's gone against the a Town structures , a very public commitment and positive emphasis of all that is good ,and bodes well,would be the very least of MY expectations : SADLY the two at the very top are seemingly totally inadequate in these areas,
Herein is the root of our demise ; no dynamism , no believable objectives ,no honesty , no warmth of humanity ( from the top ) ;,in fact an almost treacherous swamp for any manager ,from which to pick the way forward,and encourage supporters AND deliver attractive results and evidence of league progression !
So whilst I find great sympathy and understand your angle, you need in fact to,look a little deeper ; ask for yourself just how you'd manage and deal in such quite evidently stultifying circumstances ,and ask ,too , whether this top down malaise has in fact helped to generate and encourage the vituperative emotional nonsense which in no way represents the true spirit of ITFC , which I'm certain most of the ' older ' supporters would love to return .


grubbyoik added 19:20 - Apr 2
Unfortunately when Mcarthy is manager there can only be one personality... Mcarthy himself.. the same was with Keane.
Good managers lead their teams but don’t suffocate them. Ferguson at Man Utd is a good example.. he was definitely incharge but allowed the players to be themselves and express themselves under a professional code of conduct.

Carberry added 20:48 - Apr 2
Harry, really thoughtful, considered piece that nails the McCarthy philosophy. I do think there's an additional element - the unspoken deal between him and Evans. I'm sure McCarthy did a deal with the owner to make a team that would survive and maybe push the play-offs for next to no money and for that he was very well rewarded. McCarthy never said he didn't have enough money, just that others had more, much more. So he got into a vicious spiral where he couldn't do it and play a style of football to please the fans and so his standing got worse and worse. Of course his ego was damaged with all that you have alluded to. As we know we have been treated to dishonesty on an industrial scale.

SpiritOfJohn added 06:59 - Apr 3
Harry, we are lucky to have such a scholarly regular contributor as your good self. I am guessing that the majority of this article was prepared long before Mick's exit was confirmed. Who do you think would get the best out of what Mick has left in his wake?

BossMan added 11:28 - Apr 3
Great read as always Harry. Personally I never wanted him here in the first place and never enjoyed watching the McCarthy brand of football.
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