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Mick McCarthy: One-on-One

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy answers FourFourTwo readers' questions back in October 2009, shortly after their promotion to the Premier League.

“No, no. I’ll not even talk about it. I don’t wish to touch that, as far as I’m concerned. You’re not reading me, are you? Oh, you are now? The penny’s dropped? Good.”

Still sore after a painful visit to the dentist, Mick McCarthy doesn’t mince his words when it comes to his one taboo subject: that bust-up with Roy Keane. It’s an issue more sensitive than his gums and he warned us from the start it’s not up for discussion. So we asked him anyway. Oh well, aside from that area of ?spikiness, Big Mick is as gentlemanly and ?forthright as ever when FourFourTwo meets him in the opulent surroundings of Wolves’ Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground.

The ?modern-looking facilities certainly appear Premier League level but will his newly ?promoted team be up to it? McCarthy has experienced promotions and relegations before and hopes that he is now wiser than ever, or at least not the ‘plonker’ he was once labelled. As the former no-nonsense stopper and ?current no-nonsense boss answers your ?questions, he reveals some uncomfortable truths involving raw steaks, nudity, kickings, arse-kissing and anger management…

Captain Fantastic! What a nickname. Who gave it to you and why? Where do you rate among these other great captains – Captain Planet, Captain James. T. Kirk, Captain Birdseye?
Mark Watson, Sunderland
[Laughs] I don’t think I’m quite as cool as Captain Birdseye, that’s for sure. It was a name given to me – It certainly wasn’t something ?I thought of! I had a book out at the time of Euro 88 or the World Cup in 1990 and I was the captain of the team. It was the title they wanted to give the book. I was embarrassed by it and said I didn’t want to do it that way. They coerced me into it. Anyway, the book was OK. Growing up as a kid, I loved all the cartoons but I never aspired to be a superhero.

Born in Barnsley, how much of a thrill was it to join The Tykes in 1977? Was that always the hope or did it just work out that way?
Steve Tan, Birmingham
I wanted to be a footballer. But I had so many people telling me I would never be one, I wasn’t good enough. They were telling me that till ?I was about 33 when I finished. But it was really special, firstly to be a pro footballer, and to start my career with my hometown club was ?fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it means ?a lot to me, that.

Your time at Manchester City was a rollercoaster ride. How much did the experience of promotion and then relegation prepare you for the challenges you’d face later in your career?
Dean Bridge, Thames on Sea
We got relegated, after the last game at West Ham. It affected me dreadfully. Players don’t want to be relegated. I think it’s a slur on ?players to be relegated, you just feel awful. It doesn’t help you cope later as a manager because it’s a different feeling. I can’t explain that, but it is a different feeling. As a manager it affects a lot more people than just yourself. As a player you care about the team and the reality is you care about yourself and you just feel awful when you’ve been beaten. It’s ?a real horror feeling throughout the summer.

You played at Celtic. How does the Old Firm atmosphere compare to some of the other derbies you’ve been involved with in   your career: Manchester City vs Manchester United, Sunderland vs Newcastle. Is it harder being a manager or player in these sorts of games?
Saleem Mansour, Clapham
Everybody talks about their respective derby, and everybody’s derby� is as ?important as the next man’s. I was involved in St Etienne and Lyon when I was at Lyon and that was a real nasty affair, which was surprising. We were second best at Man City so we didn’t expect to beat United who were at the top, while we’d just got promoted. At Celtic we were on a real even footing though so it was by far a bigger occasion – and the noise level – I’ve never heard anything like the Old Firm games! So I would say they’re bigger and better than any games I’ve ever been involved in. Derbies are not hard to play in. There’s pressure, but at the end of it as a player you put everything else to one side and just go and play. As a manager you still have all those things going on but you’re trying to keep everybody’s feet on the ground and on an even keel and you’re trying to ?manage everybody’s expectations, desires and ambitions.

Lyon! How did that all come about? You only played a handful of games – what happened? And how’s your French?
Bob Boyle, Glasgow
The stock answer to that is “merde” and the only thing I remember about that is the players saying to me “Tu parles francais comme una vache espagnole” – I spoke French like a Spanish cow. So that bit really stuck with me. Actually, I was doing OK. I was only there from June till March. I’d had an ?operation at Celtic, I’d rehabilitated, I’d got myself in the team. But the knee played up again. Remi Garde and Bruno N’Gotty were in the team and they were two ?fantastic players. So I just didn’t get back in the team and didn’t really see myself?getting back in the team while they were playing so well.

Somebody rang me up and asked if I’d be interested. I have to say I didn’t know exactly where Lyon was. It wasn’t as easy then. You didn’t go on the internet and just type Olympique Lyonnais and find out ?everything about it. Somebody had seen me play in the European Championships in 1988 for Ireland in West Germany and marked me down and followed me and ?they approached the club.

The thought of France and learning to speak French and playing in a different country was hugely exciting for me. I was loving it and my wife even more so than me – the kids were happily speaking French after a few months. But my career was about football and I wasn’t playing. I wanted to play in the World Cup in 1990 and Millwall came up. I’d just put the last roll of ?wallpaper in the house when a guy from Millwall rang. I didn’t want to leave Lyon. I wanted to play in the World Cup and the only way to do that was by playing first team football.

Who’s the best striker you’ve ever faced? More to the point, which player did you kick the most?
Kian Lenster, Dublin
[Laughs] I would like to think I kicked them all equally, I have to be honest. I’d hate to think I was prejudiced in any shape or form towards any one person or any one team. So I’d like to think I did equal amount of damage to every centre-forward I played against. Looking at my nose and the state of my body, one or two kicked me as well. It wasn’t one-sided, believe me. I have to say Gary Lineker was quick and scored goals. Ian Rush was fabulous and Dalglish was something else. I was lucky to play against them. But the day I marked Ruud Gullit in the European Championships stands out. He was unstoppable because he was quick, he had a sublime touch, could spot a pass, he was also six foot three or whatever, bigger than me, a hugely ?powerful, strong man. He was without a doubt the best one. His mate wasn’t bad either, Van Basten.

As a well-travelled man, you must have tried your fair share of local cuisine. Rate these in order: a traditional Yorkshire Sunday Roast, Irish Stew or gras double – a combination of tripe and oni�ons, a speciality in Lyon?
Jamie Cook, via e-mail
I never heard of that one. I thought the speciality in Lyon was huitres. I went out with Remi Garde one of the first nights ?I was there and he had it, so I tried it and it was raw steaks and onions and an egg. That didn’t go down very well. So I’d have to go for the roast beef and Yorkshire ?pudding, the Irish stew and then the French delicacy, but having never tried the French delicacy I think it’s quite unfair for me to rate it. Actually, if it was Roquefort, crusty bread and a glass of red wine, that might do it for me.

I hear your debut for Millwall was one to forget: something about a bouncy pitch, an own goal and Bambi on ice! Please tell us more...
Craig Mealy, Wolverhampton
I thought I had a fair game, personally, apart from scoring an own goal. I hadn’t played for about eight weeks but I have to say my debut was not the way to ingratiate myself. These things happen though; as a defender sometimes you try and stop something and it flies in the net. Bambi on ice! That description’s been used before. It won’t be used again, though. Because I’m 50 and I won’t be playing!

What was your scariest experience at the Old Den?
James Hinton, via email
Turning up on my first day was the ?scariest one. I parked in a scrap yard, next to a skip, and tried to get into the ground but nobody knew me. I tried to explain to the guy at the door that I was coming from Olympique Lyonnais. “Olympique Lyonnais? You what, mate? You’re from where? You’re from what?” That was an interesting 10-minute discussion. But I had a brilliant time at Millwall. ?I loved it. Not scary – more hairy moments. We had the last game of the season at Millwall and we played Bristol Rovers. Before the final whistle had gone we had to leave the pitch. I still don’t understand it. On the third occasion we came back on the pitch. The referee had to end the game. There was no promotion, no relegation. ?I doubt there was any prize money for places. Twice or three times we had to leave the pitch because the crowd came on and ended up taking souvenirs like the crossbar, nets and seats and the pitch. I remember players running off and they nicked the kits and boots and lads were in the dressing room in their boxers. Interesting times. A great club; it gets bad press, but I loved it there.

As a Yorkshireman born and bred, how difficult a decision was it to opt to play for the Republic? Bet your dad, an Irishman, was thrilled. What was it like being one of the first of that batch of non-Irish born players?
Phil Donally, London
My dad was thrilled, yes. He was immensely proud of the fact that I played and even more so because at a very early age I’d asked the question about my English mother and Irish father and asked, “What am I? Which nationality?” I went to school with all the Irish community and felt very much a part of that so there was no difficulty in me ?playing for Ireland and being part of that.

One of the first non-Irish born players? I never thought of that. There were plenty of them before me but I was one of the fortunate ones who played in the World Cup and European Championships. What highlighted the fact that we were Anglo-Irish was when we beat England in the ’88 European Championships. That really ?pissed off everyone in England. Suddenly I was English and shouldn’t be playing. ?I think you’ll find that I’m Irish.

I’ve read that you committed the most fouls at Italia 90. Were you angry that summer or had they started clamping down on the tackle from behind?
John Barry, Stockport
I start every game angry and get angrier. ?I didn’t get booked, either. They were all sensitive fouls and I did it with a smile on my face.

Masterminding Ireland’s 1-0 win over Holland to qualify for the 2002 World Cup must rank as one of your greatest achievements. But be honest, when Gary Kelly got sent off you must have thought you’d blown it. What were you thinking at the time and how surprised were you at Louis van Gaal’s tactics?
Lee Perkins, Liverpool
Let’s put it this way, when Gary Kelly got sent off I wasn’t thinking, “Oh fantastic, we’ll piss it now!” We were 1-0 up and had to go into defensive mode and looking back I couldn’t have had a better group to keep a clean sheet. We were lucky a couple of times. Van Gaal reacted like I think most people do when they’re struggling. They couldn’t play through us and so started to use the aerial attack which we coped with. It was a great achievement, but I can hardly say it was a mastermind plan of mine to take Gary Kelly off, bring us down to 10 men and win it that way. But we earned it because we worked so hard.

As a manager, how difficult is it to turn around a long-running series of defeats – as was the case when Sunderland were last in the Premier League? ?Why exactly did The Black Cats find it ?so difficult and what lessons have you learned for Wolves this season?
Dwayne Thomas, Portsmouth
The players weren’t good enough, the ?manager wasn’t good enough, or the ?collective wasn’t good enough. So, if that’s the case, you’re in Shit Street, Arizona. ?I turned up with nine games to play, tried to win them all and lost them all. There were two managers prior to me in Peter Reid and Howard Wilkinson. It’s a ?difficult job turning it round but the next season we did. We finished third, were in the semi-final of the cup and then won the Championship the following year.

I hope the experience of fighting to stay up will help. I don’t know if we’ll go down like Sunderland did. It’s too easy to say no, we’ll be fine, we’ll stay up, but I think we’ve got a better opportunity – I’m ?definitely more confident this time than I was the last time.

You signed Michael Kightly from non-league side Grays Athletic. Considering spiralling transfer fees at the top end of the market, are managers having to look at bringing non-league players into the game?  Or was Kightly just a one-off?
Mel Yarwood, via email
We did alright. Aaron McLean, George Boyd, Mackail-Smith at Peterborough, they didn’t cost vast amounts of money. They were maybe £100,000 or £200,000, but they have been huge successes. So there are players about. We’re all looking for them. We’re just fortunate when we pick one up.

After Wolves lost to Reading earlier this year, you vented your frustration in a post-match interview with some top-notch effing and jeffing. Where do you think you rate among some of the games other top swearers like Barry Fry, Harry Redknapp and Graham Taylor? I reckon you’re right up there.
Ben Amis, Leeds
It was good, wasn’t it? I don’t know, I’ve never put myself in a league but I’m ?a passionate football person that actually express their feelings after a game, instead of going “Well, maybe, possibly, could have, would have, should have, not quite sure, didn’t see that, kiss my arse and all the rest”. At least you get a decent answer from me. You all find it hugely entertaining anyway, don’t you?

Last season, the Wolves players posed topless for a charity calendar. How come you weren’t in it – didn’t you fancy yourself as Mr October? Of all your players, who was most keen to flash ?the flesh for cash?
Jen Cassey, Wolverhampton
No, I’m not going to do it. Anyone who saw it would understand why I wouldn’t pose n�aked alongside them. Because they were looking for Mr Fab, not Mr Fat, Thin and anything else you can think of. Not ?a chance. Who wanted to do it? I don’t know. There’s one or two who quite fancied it, none of them were “hold me back, hold me back”, I can’t name any but they got plenty to do it.

When asked before Wolves’ Championship win last season how you would react to the success, Karl Henry said, “Something won’t have been done right. He’ll still find something to moan about.” Have you ever come away from ?a game feeling totally satisfied and if so, have you told your players? Ever take this perfectionism into other aspects of your life? Have you, for example, ever chided the missus for a slightly over-cooked steak?
Neil Gardiner, via email
She never does an overcooked steak - it’s always perfect. But it’s my job to find faults – I think constructive criticism is the way we all improve. So I keep chipping away.

What did you say to Chris Iwelumo after he got back from making his debut for Scotland after missing that sitter against Norway? Did you send him for shooting practice?
Tim Maynard, via email
Oh, we all really took the piss out of him! There were lads setting things up and ?missing chances. I phoned him first when he was in Scotland just to see how he was and to tell him he’d handled it brilliantly. I thought with the media side he was ?fantastic. He came out and said “Missed it, sorry lads”. Fantastic.

Along with Martin O’Neill, you’re my favourite media pundit, but you’re both always in full-time jobs. How would you describe your punditry style and can we expect to see you back on the Beeb next summer for the World Cup?
Heather Barry, Fareham
My commentary style is Mick McCarthy. I say it as I see it but without being brutal on players because I’ve been there and ?I know what that’s like.

You’ve come up with some fairly quotable lines – from talking about being perceived as a ‘plonker’ when joining Sunderland to claiming you weren’t Merlin the Magician when you took over at Wolves. But if you had to some up your philosophy on football – and possibly life – what would it be?
Dan Oram, via email
Me, I always try my best. It’s a boring one, I know but I haven’t got a quotable ?philosophy for you that some might have. When I was a kid growing up in Barnsley I was turned away from the Barnsley boys’ team because I wasn’t good enough, then played for Barnsley Juniors, went to the first team, went to Manchester, went to Celtic, went to Lyon, went to Millwall, won 57 caps. It was all through being a grafter, being bloody-minded, being ?belligerent, Every time I went out on the pitch I gave my best.

Interview: Victor Vago. Portrait: Stuart Wood. From the October 2009 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!