Mick McCarthy’s departure from Ipswich has observers urging the club to be careful what they wish for but many supporters see it very differently, writes Adam Bate.
Mick McCarthy's no-nonsense attitude plays well with the neutral. The black humour and belligerence is fun for those dipping into events at Ipswich Town. But those fans described as "a disgrace" by their departing manager no doubt feel it is easier to see the funny side of the football on offer at Portman Road when you're not the ones expected to pay for it.
Ipswich parted company with McCarthy on Tuesday evening following their 1-0 home win over his hometown club Barnsley. It has already been confirmed that he would leave at the end of the season but with little to play for, and as McCarthy himself pointed out, him effectively serving as caretaker manager for his own job, the exit was brought forward.
McCarthy leaves Ipswich
Manager Mick McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor have left Ipswich Town with immediate effect.
There has been no shortage of people willing to let Ipswich supporters know that they are making a mistake. McCarthy's track record in the Championship is a good one, twice promoted and never relegated. Careful what you wish for is the message. Hope is the reply. Saturdays with sunshine instead of stoicism. Is that really too much to ask?
There was a time when McCarthy offered that. "The long-term ambition is to take the club back into the Premier League," he said when he arrived in 2012. It was a bold claim given that the club was bottom at the time with no money to spend after incurring losses of £16m that year. But McCarthy set about his task by turning ordinary players into a team.
That was precisely the remit under club owner Marcus Evans. "I wanted to work with a manager who was going to try to and coach and make our players better," he explained at the time and it worked well for quite a while. McCarthy steered Ipswich away from danger and delivered a trio of top 10 finishes - the first time Ipswich had done that in over a decade.
There was even an unlikely play-off place in 2015, remarkable given the modest spending. McCarthy's most expensive buy at the time was Tyrone Mings at £10,000 - subsequently sold for 1,000 times that amount. No wonder he was defensive when it became a struggle last season. "I've done a bloody good job under the terms and conditions," he insisted.
The problem for McCarthy was partly one of circumstance. With the club now certain of a 15th consecutive season in the Championship, apathy was always going to be a risk. The decision to increase season ticket prices prior to last season only exacerbated the tensions - turned many away and leaving others less inclined to be patient when things went wrong.
And wrong they went. A run of seven defeats in 10 games in the autumn, including a home defeat in the derby against Norwich, did not help the mood. While Ipswich were still in the top half after that result, their ninth without a win against their great rivals, it is the style that has antagonised. Mid-table mediocrity and unambitious football is a bad combination.
Between January and March, over a period of two-and-a-half months, Ipswich fans were subjected to over eight hours of watching their team play without scoring a goal at Portman Road. This is not just bad football but boring football. Barely believably, Ipswich have now failed to score a first-half goal in 17 of their last 20 matches.
The vocal minority in the North Stand grew and a local newspaper poll suggested over 80 per cent wanted McCarthy out. While he boasts a well-earned reputation as a thick-skinned Yorkshireman, it was increasingly clear that he did not welcome such criticism. McCarthy felt he was owed more and rather than placating these fans, he sought to confront them.
Every victory was a chance to state his case. After a rare 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest, he made his feelings plain. "Always remember," he told reporters, placing his hands on the desk. "Always remember… 'Mick McCarthy your football is *****', 'Mick McCarthy get out of our club', 'Mick McCarthy you're a boring *******'. Always remember… Because I do."
At times, McCarthy has given the distinct impression that he was being fuelled by this antipathy towards the team's own supporters. Revelling in proving them wrong. Wanting to succeed in spite of their presence rather than because of them. By his own admission, he is a bloody-minded individual, even intimating that it has influenced his decisions.
When supporters called for the introduction of on-loan Manchester City talent Bersant Celina in an away game against Burton Albion, and the youngster came off the bench to score a late winner, McCarthy wanted everyone to know that this had not influenced his decision. "I don't give a ***** about that, by the way," he explained.
"He didn't go on because of that, let me just clear that up. In fact, there's more chance of him not going on when they start telling me what to do. And yes, I am a belligerent ****. Let's just clear that up." McCarthy was crystal clear but things reached their nadir when he appeared to hurl abuse at his own fans after a late goal against Norwich in February. He insisted that it was aimed at nobody in particular. Not everybody was convinced.
His popularity with his own players is not in question. McCarthy is, by all accounts, a very different character around them. There will be another job too. It would be no surprise if it is a job with better prospects than the one that he has done for the past five-and-a-half years at Ipswich. He remains capable of outperforming his budget - a dream for many an owner.
Evans has parted company reluctantly and many players will be disappointed too. That says plenty. Managing upwards is a useful skill. Managing your players is vital. But so is managing the aspirations of supporters and it is easy to wonder whether McCarthy's unwillingness to play this particular game cost him a lot of hard-earned goodwill at Ipswich.
He leaves content in the belief that he has done a good job and unlikely to indulge in too much self-reflection. But the fact that many Ipswich supporters are more than happy to risk taking a backward step for the hope that a new man might bring is revealing too. These fans want to be sold a vision less bleak. That, it seems, is the problem with Mick McCarthy.
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