James Lawton: General McCarthy can inspire his men to win their relegation battle

What makes Mick such a formidable customer in a corner is his ability to strip down illusions and still suggest that there may be a fighting chance

You cannot beat relegation with sheer rhetoric – or even a cult-inspiring populist touch.

If you could Ian Holloway would now be plotting his Champions League strategy rather than trying to persuade Sir Alex Ferguson that he should damn the consequences and pick his third team when Blackpool visit Old Trafford on Sunday.

Then there is Wigan's Roberto Martinez, who needs to win at Stoke and is a mean performer at the microphone. If he had gained a point for every felicitous phrase he might be contemplating a run in the Europa League instead of, maybe, the turmoil of the Championship.

Alex McLeish of Birmingham City and his embattled compatriot at Blackburn, Steve Kean, are somewhat less loquacious, at least publicly, but then both are likely to be voluble enough on the day of decision when they take their teams, respectively, to Tottenham and Wolves.

The problem for Kean though – apart from his Indian owners, who summoned him to the subcontinent this week for a meeting hardly guaranteed to lift the spirit, and an ill-timed encounter with the breathalyser – could prove most formidable of all.

It is the one represented by Mick McCarthy.

This is because if it could ever be said that a football man was fashioned for the purpose of fighting relegation, that every cussed, iconoclastic instinct was put at his disposal, every scrap of rough, defiant eloquence mustered in the face of disaster, it was surely the man with the Irish name and the broad Yorkshire imprint.

It is nine years since the celebrated Roy Keane passed his verdict on the football life of Mick McCarthy. "You were a crap player and you're a crap coach," said Keane before being escorted off the Republic of Ireland's 2002 World Cup premises in Saipan. McCarthy's response was entirely typical and can be paraphrased succinctly enough along the lines of, "That may be so but tha can still f.... off."

What makes McCarthy such a formidable customer in a corner is his ability to strip down illusions, in both the dressing room and boardroom, and still suggest that there may be a fighting chance.

He does not mistake a football match, however unpromising its prospects, for the outbreak of the Third World War and when the pressure is at its highest he often produces his best.

Even if you did not miss his reaction to the life-giving victory at the Stadium of Light last weekend, when he was quizzed about his previously zero Premier League success record there as a Sunderland manager and the presence of rock icon and Wolves vice-president Robert Plant in the directors' box, it is probably worth re-visiting.

It was a statement of self-belief fashioned out of one man's football's reality. "I don't really bother with all that bullshit," he declared, "I really don't because everyone's got a different angle or stat, whether it's Robert Plant or the fact I never won here. I won loads of games when I was manager here, I won the Championship title here, got into the Premier League without a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, and then the following season I was given even less. But I loved it. When I left I had my head held high."

Win or lose, the Wolves owner Steve Morgan suggests that McCarthy will still be Wolves manager next season. He sees the kind of progress at a club which does not always show up in the league table. But then how do you define it? More than anything, it is an attitude of mind, one that leads Matt Jarvis, one of McCarthy's shrewdest investments from an always modest battle fund, to declare that he aches to be part of Sunday's starting line up.

At the very least it may be something for the judgmental Roy Keane, who was such a superb player, to reflect upon as he walks his dog.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea