Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Politics of fear doesn’t wash when it feels like there’s little to lose
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A fortnight for the fog to clear – but unfortunately it doesn’t look like Ipswich Town fans are going to get the full clarity they need.
Season tickets for 2018/19, a 17th successive year in the Championship, will go on sale next week. It’s understood that owner Marcus Evans is going to break his silence and outline plans to reinvigorate a club that has gone stale.
The problem is, contrary to what managing director Ian Milne recently suggested, it doesn’t look like there will be any news on manager Mick McCarthy’s future until the very final throes of another forgettable campaign. And that is the only real question in town.
Everything points to the combative Yorkshireman proclaiming ‘you’ll miss me when I’m gone’ followed by a proverbial mic drop leading into the final game – at home against Middlesbrough on May 6.
How sad that we’ve got to this messy break-up stage in the relationship after so many prior good times together. Neither party – him and the fans – understand each other any more. Once on the same page, they are now in different libraries. The disconnect is huge.
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He feels unloved and harbours resentment that his over-achievements on a budget are not respected more. He looks at the Premier League managerial merry-go-around of Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Alan Pardew and Paul Lambert and probably feels he deserves to be at the top table too.
Last week McCarthy went from refusing to speak about anything on the Monday, to getting everything of his chest on the Thursday. It was open, honest and passionate, but also lacked humility and conciliation. And that’s the problem. At a juncture when pacification was required, he’s turned up his belligerence levels to 11 this season.
There is sympathy over limited funds and key injuries. There is admiration regarding his man-management, recruitment and ability to turn out teams that wear the shirts with pride. Yet McCarthy has undoubtedly created his own public image problems.
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Instead of warmly educating his detractors and ignoring the died-in-the-wool critics, he has added fuel to the flames with a highly dismissive and defensive tone. Making a conscious decision to shout ‘f*** off’ in their direction rather than celebrating with his staff after a key East Anglian derby goal spoke volumes about his driving motivation.
McCarthy has admitted he doesn’t want to ruin his ‘brand’. After five-and-a-half years at a club he continues to talk about ‘me’ and less about ‘us’. Town fans feel excluded rather than included. That’s where a lot of the ill-feeling has developed. As much of the damage has been done off the pitch as on it.
The result is that even his fiercest advocates reluctantly admit that such a siege mentality has become unhealthy for all concerned. Wolves fans will tell you this story panned out exactly the same there.
The shame of it is that, in person, McCarthy is a man of impeccable manners, integrity and honour. All who work with him will tell you that. Why those personality traits get left at the door when presenting himself to the wider world is a wonder.
Perhaps that emotional shield is required to survive in the cut-throat world of football management? Nice guys get chewed up and spat out. You only need to look at Jose Mourinho’s narcissistic rant last week for an example. There is another way though.
Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have proven you can use a positive persona and less pragmatic tactics to sweep everyone along for the ride. Are Manchester United above Liverpool and Tottenham in the Premier League table – yes. Are their fans having more fun - no.
And that is the crux of Town fans’ frustrations. It’s not about league position. It’s not about unrealistic expectations. No-one expects champagne football for a fiver. It’s far from unreasonable to want more than a half a stale pint in poor company though, even with a fist full of loose change.
The phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ is so patronising. Football’s most throw-away line is easy for outsiders to use when they have not sat through forgettable game after forgettable game and been entrenched in the same old discussions for two years. They should walk a mile in Town fans’ shoes and then see if they feel the same.
The politics of fear simply does not wash when it increasingly feels like there is little to lose.