Premier League Clubs Managed: Sunderland (2003, 2005-2006), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2009-2012)
In February 2019, Mick McCarthy will turn 60. McCarthy enjoyed some time out of the game after his reign at the helm of Championship club Ipswich Town came to an end in April 2018. However, he returned to the international scene in November 2018, agreeing to take charge of the Republic of Ireland for a second time. McCarthy has had the unique honour of playing and coaching the Republic of Ireland at two different World Cup finals. He also enjoyed a three-season stint in the Premier League as manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Born in Barnsley, McCarthy started his playing career with the Tykes and that was to be his longest spell with any club in his playing days. Barnsley were in the bottom-tier of English football when he made his professional bow in 1977 and as a strong central defender, he helped them to promotion in 1980. He made 272 league appearances for the Yorkshire side, scoring seven goals. In December 1983, he moved to Manchester City, experiencing top-flight football in England for the first time.
In 1987, he went north of the border to play for Celtic which is where McCarthy enjoyed his most successful spell in terms of silverware. He was part of the Celtic side that won the Scottish League and Cup double in 1988 and another Scottish Cup followed a year later. Mick was part of the final Celtic side to win the championship before Rangers’ nine-season stranglehold on the Scottish league title. A move to Lyon followed but he didn’t play as much as he wanted and he moved back to English football on the eve of the 1990 World Cup finals with a loan switch to Millwall.
Although the Lions were relegated, McCarthy did more than enough to protect his place in Jack Charlton’s squad for the tournament in Italy and also earned himself a permanent move to London. Injuries restricted him to just 29 appearances in the next two seasons and he effectively retired from playing in 1992. However, a new challenge was to wait for him at the club where he finished his playing days.
For Ireland, McCarthy won 57 caps for his country, qualifying to play for them because he had an Irish father. He made his international debut in 1984 and featured in all three group games of the Republic’s first major international tournament which was the 1988 European Championships. His respect within the camp meant he was awarded the captaincy and he never shied away from making a crunching tackle. In fact, McCarthy committed more fouls than any other player during the 1990 World Cup. In their debut World Cup adventure, Ireland made the quarter-finals before going out to hosts Italy.
Starting out at Millwall
In March 1992, McCarthy became Millwall player-manager following the departure of Bruce Rioch. Although he was still registered as a player, Mick’s focus was soely on management – so much so, he only made one further playing appearance after his appointment.
In 1993-1994, Millwall launched a serious challenge for promotion to the Premier League, finishing in third place in the final standings and only narrowly missing out on automatic promotion. Heartbreak would follow with defeat in the semi-finals to Derby County and it was Leicester City who would win the third promotion place, despite finishing below the Lions in the table.
In December 1995, Millwall topped the table before a cataclysmic display away at Roker Park, losing 6-0 to Sunderland. It was around this time that McCarthy became the frontrunner for the vacant Republic of Ireland job after Charlton retired as team manager. The speculation did little to help Millwall’s club form and eventually in February 1996, he was officially appointed as Ireland’s new manager. Millwall ended the season with relegation whilst McCarthy was ready for his big international break.
Japan and Keane
Initially, he couldn’t weave the magic on the team that Charlton had achieved. The Republic of Ireland were beaten by Belgium in a two-legged qualifying play-off for the 1998 World Cup finals. They also missed out on the party for the 2000 European Championships in Holland and Belgium. Better luck was to follow in 2002.
Drawn in a tricky group alongside European semi-finalists Portugal and Holland, expectations were low but Ireland delivered and a 1-0 victory over the Dutch in Dublin in September 2001 guaranteed them a top two finish, ensuring Louis van Gaal’s side would fail to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986. That took them into another play-off, this time against Iran. A narrow 2-1 play-off victory over the Asian side meant the Republic qualified for their first major tournament in eight years. It was meant to be an exciting opportunity in Japan and South Korea.
However, the tournament build-up was dominated by a public spat between McCarthy and his skipper, Roy Keane. Keane openly questioned the training facilities that had been allocated by the FAI, then thought preparations were too laidback going into the country’s third World Cup finals. Insults were thrown by the player and McCarthy decided to send him home without kicking a ball in the tournament.
Despite this negative build-up, McCarthy rallied his side through the group stage. Robbie Keane scored three goals, including a dramatic injury-time equaliser to earn a draw with eventual finalists Germany. The likes of Gary Breen, Damien Duff and Steve Finnan flourished throughout the competition but Ireland were knocked out on penalties by Spain in the round-of-16 after a 1-1 draw. In total, they missed four spot-kicks in the match – one in regular time and three in the shootout.
A poor start to qualification for the 2004 European Championships saw McCarthy step down from his role in November 2002. In total, he won 29 of 68 internationals during his six-year spell as national team manager.
In March 2003, Sunderland sacked Howard Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill as their management team after losing six successive matches. McCarthy, who had been shortlisted for the job before Wilkinson’s controversial appointment, took over the sinking ship. Relegation was virtually a guarantee when he was appointed and sure enough, Sunderland’s Premier League fate was confirmed a month later. They lost every single game after his appointment as manager.
The 2003-2004 season in the First Division was considered as a disappointment. Sunderland did reach the play-offs but lost a semi-final penalty shootout to Crystal Palace who would eventually win the play-off final. However, the turnaround of the club was completed with the Championship title in 2005, recording 94 points on their way to the title.
In 2005-2006, life became incredibly difficult at the higher level for both the team and the manager. The Black Cats lost their first five matches and he actually never won a home Premier League game at The Stadium of Light. There were away victories over Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion but with 10 games remaining in the campaign, McCarthy was dismissed with the club 16 points from safety in March 2006. Ironically, Roy Keane was appointed as the next permanent boss.
Keeping Wolves in the top-flight
He was out of the game for just four months before taking over at Wolverhampton Wanderers, replacing Glenn Hoddle in the hotseat. His first two campaigns at Molineux saw the club finish sixth and seventh respectively, losing another play-off semi-final to West Bromwich Albion and missing out on a top six result in 2008 only on goal difference.
Promotion to the Premier League was secured in April 2009 with a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers and the Championship title followed a week later. Wolves had spent 42 of the 46 matchdays top of the table in 2008-2009 in one of the most dominating second-tier campaigns in recent history. His fine work saw him win the Championship Manager of the Year.
In 2009-2010, survival in the Premier League was the aim for everyone connected with Wolverhampton Wanderers and McCarthy managed to achieve this. Safety was assured with two games remaining and Wolves ultimately finished in 15th place. This was despite being fined £25,000 after the Premier League authorities decided he had fielded a weakened team for a fixture away at Manchester United in December 2009.
The 2010-2011 campaign was even more dramatic. There were thrilling home victories over outgoing champions Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United – ending the latter’s unbeaten start to the season in the process. There was also a fantastic 1-0 away victory at Liverpool FC in December 2010. However, Wolves struggled to find any consistency against the teams in the relegation battle and going into the final day, they were just one point clear of the relegation zone. They lost 3-2 at home to Blackburn Rovers but defeats for Birmingham City and Blackpool meant Wolves avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth. It meant McCarthy became the first Wolves manager in 30 years to maintain the club’s top-flight position for two successive seasons.
Things didn’t go so well in 2011-2012 for McCarthy, despite topping the table after two successive victories. Results didn’t progress and Wolves dropped once again into a relegation scrap. In February 2012, Wolves were embarrassed 5-1 at home by local rivals West Bromwich Albion. 24 hours later, the inevitable happened and McCarthy was sacked after five years and 207 days in the post at Molineux. His long-trusted assistant Terry Connor took over but Wolves failed to win another game after McCarthy’s departure and they were relegated.
After nine months out of the game, he resurfaced at Ipswich Town with Connor joining him as assistant. Despite having one of the smallest wage budgets in the Championship, McCarthy worked miracles with the resources he had available to him. They made the play-offs in 2014-2015 before yet more semi-final frustration, this time at the expense of East Anglian rivals Norwich City. Eventually, things got slightly stale at Portman Road and McCarthy left the club just before the end of the 2017-2018 season.
After leaving Ipswich, McCarthy filled his time as a pundit for both BT Sport and BBC Radio Five Live. However, he was never going to be done with management and after Martin O’Neill left the Republic of Ireland post following a dismal UEFA Nations League campaign, the international job became available again. Mick is back and will lead Ireland into the upcoming European Championship qualifying campaign. It remains to be seen how he does in his second spell managing the Irish national side.