A reign of two halves: Analysing Mick McCarthy’s five years at Ipswich Town
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Mick McCarthy’s reign at Ipswich Town has reached the five-year mark, but is the Yorkshireman’s half-decade anniversary at Portman Road a cause for celebration or a time for reflection? Andy Warren takes a look.
A lot has changed in the world of football management since November 1, 2012, but the man in the hotseat at Ipswich Town has been the definition of consistency.
Manchester United have said goodbye to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, sacked two managers and appointed Jose Mourinho. Claudio Ranieri has had time to fail miserably with both Monaco and Greece, be appointed Leicester manager and lead the Foxes to the most unlikely Premier League title victory, be fired from there and move to France.
In Norwich, five men have led the Canaries in competitive games while, over in Italy, Palermo are onto their 17th manager in the last five years.
But at the end of a 1,826-day span which has seen more than 300 bosses lose their jobs up and down the English football pyramid, there is a constant at Ipswich Town.
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In celebrating his five-year anniversary at Portman Road, Mick McCarthy is part of an exclusive eight-man club of active managers to have reached such a milestone and very much bucks the trend of modern football.
His longevity is certainly an achievement in itself, even before you factor in the success of his first two-and-a-half years which saw him steer a sinking ship clear of relegation and then beat the odds to lead Ipswich to the play-offs on a tight budget.
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But rather than a mood of celebration, much of the discussion surrounding McCarthy’s half-decade in Suffolk is centred around whether the experienced boss should reach his sixth anniversary.
He dropped the biggest hint yet that his time in Suffolk may be coming to an end when he admitted he may not accept a new contract even if it was offered, with his current deal up at the end of the season. He has also warned fans to “be careful what they wish for” when discussing what life at Portman Road could be like following his departure.
Those words, as well as his expletive-ridden rants and perceived antagonising comments towards the club’s supporters, have contributed to the souring of a relationship between touchline and terrace, with sections of the Town fanbase making their feelings on McCarthy very clear.
There is a feeling Blues fans are tired of the ‘McCarthy experience’, but the Ipswich boss has not changed. The stubborn qualities which made him so popular with fans during his early years are the same ones now leaving supporters infuriated.
Regardless of the mood surrounding McCarthy and the club now, he has certainly done the job he was initially brought in to do. The Blues could very easily have found themselves in League One, and conceivably could still be there, had McCarthy not intervened following the departure of Paul Jewell to quickly guide the struggling Blues away from relegation trouble and safely into mid-table.
Just as impressive as keeping that inherited mess of a squad in the Championship in 2012-13 was his ability to transform a misfit group of players on short term deals and loans into a play-off calibre squad in just two years.
All that was done on a tight budget, with the lack of investment in the team a major reason for the club’s continued stay in the Championship, which is now in its 16th season.
The likes of Daryl Murphy, Bartosz Bialkowski, David McGoldrick, Cole Skuse and Christophe Berra were all brought in on free transfers to form the spine of that play-off side, showing McCarthy’s eye for a bargain, but in a league increasingly populated by big spending clubs with rich investors, it was a period of success which has proved unsustainable despite the purse strings being loosened slightly of late.
McCarthy’s band of brothers were ultimately beaten in the play-offs by Norwich in 2015, of course, and from there the mood has changed. A seventh-place finish in 2015-16 perhaps flattered a group of players who never hit the heights of the previous season, with the following campaign yielding the club’s worst finish in 60 years, renewed criticism over McCarthy’s conservative brand of football, ever-decreasing crowds and an often toxic atmosphere inside Portman Road.
His Ipswich reign is very much one of two halves. He gave a club struggling for an identity a team to be proud of with an ‘us against the world mentality’, but that feeling has slipped away and apathy has crept back in.
McCarthy has insisted this will not be the final stop of his 25-year management career, but will this be his final season at Portman Road? Only time will tell.