Mick: Some Thoughts
Era Ends, Time For Reflection
‘The season has been a complete disaster’ said Jez Moxey. ‘We are devastated. Fans are as upset as we are and have every right to feel that way.’
These aren’t the words of Wolves’ chief executive today. They are the ones penned by him in his programme notes near the end of the club’s 2005-06 season.
And they vividly painted the picture of the hopeless post-Hoddle mess that Mick McCarthy walked into on Friday, July 21, 2006 – with promotion aspirations, washed-up players and what remained of supporters’ faith piled in a heap against Molineux’s doors.
Lest we forget, McCarthy was greeted on day one by barely enough players for a six-a-side training exercise.
I covered the opening League game of the new era, at Plymouth, and walked out of the ground with a prominent member of the Midlands media. “It’s all about staying up this season, not going up,” he said. It was hard to disagree.
The following May, two or three members of the same fraternity were at Preston v Birmingham, bouncing around in the Deepdale press box as news came through that Wolves had responded to conceding an early goal at Leicester by scoring. And again, and again, and again.
A few months on from the arrival of Darren Anderton, Rohan Ricketts, Maurice Ross and, yes, you’ve got to mention him, Tomasz Frankowski, the club had achieved by far the unlikeliest of their five journeys to the Championship play-offs.
They had done so with an entirely new culture. Replacing tired old thirtysomethings were younger, unproven players who created a vibrancy that had been so lacking through the Mark McGhee, Colin Lee, Dave Jones and Glenn Hoddle eras.
Anyone remember that rousing standing ovation after Wolves had beaten Ipswich in Mick’s first home game? Or what about the singing and dancing when Southampton were winning 6-0 here? ‘Sup-er Mick McCarthy!’ was the chorus near the end.
Wolves lost painfully to Albion that season as well but had re-invented themselves and followed up the disappointment of missing out on a top-six finish by a whisker the following season by going up in 2008-09. After all the letdowns, the under-achievement and the play-off heartbreak, it was promotion in style, too – as champions with loads of goals and plenty to spare.
The top flight awaited the club for only the second season in 26 years. Perhaps that’s worth repeating: This would be only Wolves’ second top-flight campaign in more than a quarter of a century and, on the previous two incursions, they had barely touched the sides before crashing straight out again.
Mick’s lot, built on sensible signings that were not destined to threaten the club’s financial well being, stayed up not once but twice – and might still do again this time.
Time moves on, of course, though, and one fan’s idea of consolidation is another’s image of stagnation.
I’m not arguing against the need for change. Wolves face a 13-game fight for their survival and the results over many weeks under the Barnsley-born 53-year-old didn’t really suggest they were going to win it. For all the dissection and analysis, it sometimes boils down simply to the need for a different voice – even when the outgoing one is full of honesty, passion and enough humour to have lit up hundreds of press conferences.
On the down side, McCarthy had a frustrating reluctance to blood the club’s own talented youngsters and seemed to hold back from buying in one or two bits of flair and colour to go with all that industry and spirit.
I’d be happier now if obvious better candidates than he were out there. Steve Bruce or Neil Warnock anyone? There would perhaps have been more of a case to be chasing Martin O’Neill and Mark Hughes as a replacement in the late autumn, rather than the apparently less worthy available contenders now – and with the transfer window and most of the winter gone.
Over to the board. But, if their next managerial appointment is anywhere near as successful as their last one, there’s much to look forward to.