Chris McGrath: Tears all round as Wolves become a laughing stock
The Last Word
It can't be a coincidence.
As we saw again on Tuesday, Chelsea's ageing stars seem convulsed by the esteem of a manager whose various successors they have resented – and regularly banished – as impostors. On Wednesday, exactly the same could be said of Internazionale. Anyone intoxicated by the notion of hiring Jose Mourinho would do well to consider these hangovers. Like Bathsheba Everdene, his former darlings refuse to marry again when Mourinho has merely left a pile of clothes on the beach.
His departure does not so much leave a vacuum as a black hole that inverts perspectives and swallows brilliant careers. Curiously, however, it seems that a perilous void may also be created when a relatively humble man departs a relatively small club. It's a fairly staggering achievement, but Wolverhampton Wanderers have somehow contrived to make Mick McCarthy look harder to replace than Mourinho himself.
Perhaps the root difficulty is similar. Everyone moves on eventually, managers or players or owners. Everyone, that is, except for the supporters, who inherit their allegiance like a genetic defect. So whether your name is Mourinho or Ashley Cole or Steve Morgan, you share the same duty. You are a mere custodian. The way you perform a fleeting role in its history must guarantee a club's dignity on behalf of those – present and future – who can never leave it. Unfortunately, its present chairman and chief executive have rendered one of the Football League's founder members a laughing stock.
Now, McCarthy's exit may well have become a mournful necessity. In trying to replace him, however, Morgan and Jez Moxey trod the margin between embarrassment and disgrace. They so poisoned the post that yesterday they reconciled themselves to leaving McCarthy's assistant in charge for the rest of the season. However good, bad or indifferent, Terry Connor is guaranteed the sympathy of all – because he is working for men who have traduced the dignity of their club.
Sacking a manager in February is always a bad sign. If confident in your judgement, you grasp the nettle in time to give your new man a chance to freshen things up in January. As it was, Morgan managed the worst of both worlds. He barely gave McCarthy a brass farthing for the transfer window; breached a protocol learnt over generations by blundering into the dressing room to berate the players; and then fired McCarthy, from the ski slopes, on receiving emotive accounts of a derby humiliation against West Bromwich Albion.
Even wielding the knife in February, however, you don't necessarily have to make a bloody mess. West Bromwich themselves had given up on Roberto Di Matteo a year before. But they had a prepared shortlist of two, and Roy Hodgson was installed within four days.
With a 13-day interval between matches, Morgan and Moxey had the perfect chance to bed a new man down. Instead, their lack of credibility became as transparent in the bewildering variety of their approaches as in the terms and targets that prompted a mortifying series of rejections.
They promised a man at home in a Premier League dogfight, spoke portentously of first and second interviews. Neil Warnock promptly signed for a Championship side instead; Alan Curbishley, out of work as he is, decided not to risk his reputation; and Steve Bruce was rankly humiliated, like a bride watching her fiancé take the wedding dress into a brothel in the hope that it might fit someone else.
Next Morgan and Moxey decided on a longer view. Gus Poyet or Brian McDermott, judged on work at a lower level, might build a sustainable Premier League squad even through a potential blip of relegation. Before you knew it, however, suddenly the seasoned Walter Smith was top of the list. Then he, too, took one look and fled for the hills.
If they knew a fortnight ago everything they have learnt since, Morgan and Moxey might have profiled a different kind of target: someone with a track record in both promotion and escaping relegation; someone effective in the backwaters of the transfer market; someone who sets the tone in pride and honesty. A man, in other words, like Mick McCarthy.
Arguably, he is nowadays too antediluvian a tactician. With the funds available, however, do fans or owners still imagine Wolves some sleeping giant, with a divine right to mid-table security? There are 13 matches left. The last is away to a club where owner and manager have together achieved a coherent understanding of its capacities; one that duly punches above its weight. If it goes to the wire, you would have to fancy Wigan – even though Morgan and Moxey were apparently offering their next coach a voucher for two at a local steakhouse if Wolves stay up.
Things were no better, mind you, in the good old days. Under Stan Cullis, Wolves won three titles and two FA Cups between 1949 and 1960. In 1964, after three decades' service as player and manager, Cullis was fired by a chairman who wrote him a letter demanding the club keys. On the headed notepaper, he had cruelly crossed out the words "Stanley Cullis – Manager". Hearing of his treatment, Matt Busby wrote: "It has knocked me sick of human nature."
Youngest of 10 children, Cullis had been denied school because his family needed another wage. He became the greatest achiever in Wolves' history, a name that will long survive that of the man who sacked him – or, it seems pretty safe to say, those of Morgan or Moxey.
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