Love him or loathe him – Mick McCarthy certainly did it his way
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town yesterday announced Mick McCarthy will leave the club when his contract expires this summer. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
‘And now, the end is near. And so I face the final curtain... I did it my way.’
It was Sir Bobby Robson’s favourite song. It’s what the team come out to at Portman Road now. And it will surely bring a wry smile to Mick McCarthy’s face as he enters the arena again on Easter Monday.
‘Through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spat it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.’ How very apt.
Mick being Mick – searingly honest, unfailingly combative and unashamedly pragmatic – is what made him so popular during the first half of his five-and-a-half year reign. It’s what makes him so durable in this most cut-throat of industries. It’s what has his players running through brick walls for him.
And yet, ultimately, it’s also what’s led to the end game that has been so painfully on the cards for some time now.
‘I’ve not changed,’ he insisted yesterday. He’s right. And maybe that’s the problem. Situations change and evolve. People grow to want different things. That’s how relationships work. You have to constantly judge the mood music. Compromise is everything.
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Mick’s refusal to bend is what’s led to the break.
Winning ugly was all well and good – fun, even – when it was saving, stabilising then slingshoting the club into the play-off places. There was a narrative of progression at play.
Grinding out points quickly became a lot less palatable once stagnation set in. Always spirited and organised enough to dig a few results out, never quite positive enough to build any real momentum.
There will be a lot of ‘be careful what you wish for’ comments being made by fans of other clubs and national pundits right now. Let’s clear something up on that score.
The current league position – 12th – is not why people are unhappy. Treading water at this level for 16 years is not the root cause of discontent either. Supporters aren’t harking back to the late 70s and early 80s. The vast majority are sensible, realistic and know how the financial landscape has changed.
It’s not too much to want the odd bit of cup excitement and occasional memorable match along the way though. And those who have sat through every game over the last two years will struggle to name you many of those. If the victories are going to be spaced out then they may as well be enjoyable. The writing was on the wall when a significant number of people weren’t seemingly able to savour three points anymore.
Amidst a backdrop of growing inertia and increasing apathy, supporters needed more than ever to hear a rhetoric of unity and positivity. They needed to hear talk of the club’s DNA and a long-term plan. Sport is about hope after all. It’s that sense of walking to the ground and thinking ‘this might just be our day’. Instead, they got dismissive, defensive and spiky from their sole figurehead in the limelight.
Mick will argue ‘they started it’ when referring to the vocal minority of who aimed toxic chants in his direction. Again, he’s right. But shouldn’t he have been rising above all that?
In truth, the Portman Road crowd has been pretty placid and patient. Out-pourings of frustration have been isolated. There was a time in the not so distant past when warm words and some bold actions would have turned the tide of public opinion in Mick’s favour. He’d actually done the hard work in that respect during those opening few months of this campaign.
But the refreshing ‘let them worry about us’ ethos quickly reverted to ‘every point’s a prisoner’ again. And when the first rumblings of discontent started, instead of pouring water on the fires Mick added petrol.
Rather than ignoring the critics he gave them added oxygen. Instead of convincing his doubters, he pushed them away. There were sorry (not sorry) hollow apologies issued following the sweary outbursts after and during games against Burton and Norwich. A siege mentality developed that was healthy for no-one. In the end, even his most ardent backers conceded this divisive atmosphere couldn’t go on.
Whenever the spotlight should have been on Marcus Evans, he swung it back on himself. Hung out to dry? Yes. But help himself? Not one bit. Many wounds were, regrettably, self-inflicted.
Yesterday’s announcement brings mixed emotions. Sadness that it’s ended like this. Relief that the soap opera is finally over. A mix of excitement and trepidation of what’s next.
When the dust has settled, history will look kindly on Mick McCarthy’s time in Suffolk. This is just a natural end to a cycle.