There was a time when Mick McCarthy thought football was easy, but it didn’t take long.
“Oh yes, it’s easy when you’re young at first,” he says. “Everyone says you’re going to be a star.
“It was like that for me in Barnsley when I was little. It was all fun. My mother always kept a scrapbook with it. Then I went to Manchester City, we reached the old First Division and suddenly it’s a completely different ball game.
“I always went to the paper and thought,” Blimey, I didn’t think I was that bad … especially when I got one out of ten against Cyrille Regis. I think you’re getting one because you show up, right?
“It was then that I just realized that it was not worth worrying so much about it. I’ve been the same ever since. Mind you, I once busted that reporter at a bar. He said, “Hey Mick, how are you?” I said, “How am I doing? I’ll tell you how the hell I am …
There was a time when manager Mick McCarthy thought football was easy
“This was about 20 years later, so at least no one can say I hold a grudge.”
McCarthy smiles on the phone. Laugh at themselves. Laugh at the absurdity and complexity of a game that rarely gives you an easy ride.
After passing the Republic of Ireland through European Championship qualification, he would transfer the reins to Stephen Kenny at the end of the summer. Third in their qualifying group, the Republic has a playoff to negotiate. But now that the tournament is a year back, McCarthy’s chance for another big final with his country is gone. Kenny is at work and McCarthy is out of work.
“People say I’m unlucky because the coronavirus coincides with the expiration of my contract, but I’m not unlucky. People who are unlucky are now on the 10th floor with three teenagers driving them crazy and they cannot go outside. I don’t feel difficult, not a little bit. Thousands of people die every day. That’s what it’s really about.
“The playoffs were initially pushed back to June and that was okay, still within my contract, but once they got to September I just thought it was over for me.
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t finish what I started, but I have no problem with it. That said, I don’t want to stay out of the game for long. ‘
McCarthy was replaced this month by Stephen Kenny as manager of the Republic of Ireland
McCarthy already misses football. The longest he’s ever been out of work is nine months, but he knows it might be longer this time. “I haven’t played a game since November 18, so it feels like a lifetime,” he said.
His current routine is similar to many. Isolating at home with his wife, Fiona, he rides a bike every day. “I don’t know if I’ll be the strongest or the thickest by the time this is all over,” he says. I burn about 2,000 calories on the bike, but I go to the fridge four times a day and that’s about 2,500. When you are at home, it is the same every day. Shall we have a cup of tea? Then go ahead. A cookie? Why not?’
McCarthy is 61 and craves more than cookies. He wants to work again; wants to reach the limit of 1,000 games. “I’m at a total of 970,” he says. “The internationals count. I asked that question a while ago. I had heard that they had to be top notch or top notch games.
McCarthy had taken the Republic by qualifying for the European Championship
“But I thought Ireland against the Netherlands and Ireland against Spain would be a top game at the World Cup, right? So I checked.
“Getting there would mean something. It says something, especially when I almost lost my first job at Millwall.
“I lost in Port Vale (in November 1994) and thought that might be something for me. Then, we defeated Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Tuesday evening and only lost again in the League in mid-February. It has been largely an upward curve since then. ‘
McCarthy is one of those managers who carries the stress of the job fairly well. He’s just finished watching the Netflix fly-on-the-wall series about one of his old clubs, Sunderland.
Would he ever let the cameras in? Some questions are really not worth asking. “Uh, not for me,” he says with a certain understatement. “I felt sorry for Simon Grayson (right) because he was poorly portrayed. He didn’t deserve that. He is one of those who, win, lose or draw, you are going to have a beer with him and he is exactly the same. He may feel absolutely sad and bitter, but you wouldn’t know it. I try to be the same.
But he now will not be the man to get the nation through their playoff game for qualifying
“But that’s not to say the track doesn’t stretch you. I remember losing my job at Wolves (in 2012) and taking a vacation to Florida. Sweet. I went back to the training area shortly after to see TC (Terry Connor, his assistant) and he said, ‘Gaffer, I can’t believe how good you look, and what I really can’t believe is how bad you looked when your left ‘.
“I know that if I go back in, it will burden me again. It is testing on your mind, on your energy, on your thinking process, on your family. You ask any manager. They will tell you the same. But I will also tell you now that I still love it. ‘
McCarthy has been a manager for 28 years. Millwall, Sunderland, Wolves, Ipswich and two spells with Ireland. Much has changed in that time, but much has not.
“The longer you are away, the more you realize that you enjoy it and thrive and need it,” he said.
“Doing nothing would be a real test for me. I have to stand on that sideline and train and coach every day and have fun with the boys. The atmosphere you create at a club is beautiful and you enjoy it so much. It is contagious.
His resignation as a republican boss this month ended his second period in the role
“People tell me the game has changed and players have changed, but is it? I don’t find the job more difficult. I treat all players well and with respect. Me and TC coach and manage them. That is it.
“Social media has changed things a bit, but I learned something there. I always thought that Twitter only abused players. But I was pointed out in Ipswich that all the fans made one of the guys on Twitter big and he responded by thinking he should be on the team.
“It opened my eyes. Not that it had a chance, because when he entered my office I still had no problems. I said, “The fact that you get a million tweets saying you should be playing doesn’t make a blind difference to me. I see you training and performing, remember. I know’.’
Next to his bed is a book that McCarthy thinks can teach him something.
‘I read Surrounded by Idiots: The Four Types of Human Behavior. I am really interested in how people behave and how they are, and whether they are a good football player. Are they a good person? Are they a leader? Are they a follower? I’m interested in that. ‘
McCarthy sees himself as a manager in the full sense of the word and is vaguely amused by some of the titles others have gotten into the game. The love for footballers is central to what he does.
“I really love them and I love being in the middle of it,” he says. “I wonder if some managers break away from players because it makes it easier to give bad news.
“If I have anything to tell them, they’ll have it Thursday or Friday morning. I am afraid of the curled finger. TC will look for the player, but of course he will hide, knowing he is after him.
“But they have to be told. I suspect some managers think it is easier if you are not close to them. But I would rather know who they are, who their wife is, who their children are, who their father and mother are.
“If I drop a player, I do my job at my discretion. It is not personal. It’s about whether they do theirs at the time. Easy. “
Those decisions are for another day. For now, it’s all about staying healthy and staying away from the cookie jar. He is not alone if he thinks the return of football will lift the country. “I watch the news and it’s so sad, but we have to have that vision to go back and that hope. I’m talking about life. But football is an important part of life for many. That it would come back in the summer would be really positive.
But the former manager of Ipswich and Wolves said he is ready for the next challenge
“Fiona and I watch more TV than we ever did. But I would like to watch a football match, a relevant football match. Not a repeat of 1970 Chelsea v Leeds. Although I last saw it and it was beautiful. What a game that was. I was a young Leeds fan and I remember it broke my heart. ‘
When Ireland hosted Denmark last November, a victory would have brought them to the Euro finals. The game finished 1-1. Still, it was better than it could have been.
When asked whether his second crack in the business was as memorable as the first – which culminated in the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup – he laughs. “Well, when Darren Randolph saved a world-class save in the 50th minute of the first game against Gibraltar, I wondered if it had been such a good idea. As it is, we scored shortly after and won 1-0. But I hated every minute.
“I loved being there. I loved the national anthem. I liked to score. But everything else about that game was terrible.
“If we lost that game, every reputation I had would be destroyed in an hour!
“Overall, though, I was thrilled to do it again and was honored to do it again. But now it moves on to the next. I’m ready.’