A football manager’s job is never an easy one. Each week without fail, a manager will be quoted as telling the media that ‘a week is a long time in football’. The ecstasy of a win on a Saturday can be countered by the dismay at the subsequent below-par performance in midweek. Emotional turmoil is combined with the pressure that accompanies the role a manager plays within a club. He is the figurehead. One man charged with fulfilling the expectations of thousands of loyal supporters, each with an opinion on how successfully he is doing his job. Managers will either sink or swim on the successful justification of big decisions. Unfortunately, the justification of a football manager’s decision is seen by the millions of people watching events unfold on a football pitch. There are few other professions where a mistake can be scrutinized by so many, so quickly.
Following the match at Old Trafford this evening, Mick McCarthy finds himself at the mercy of all Wolves fans, not to mention the media. Despite a shock 1-0 win at White Hart Lane on Saturday, McCarthy chose to change all 10 outfield players for the trip to Old Trafford. Regular first team players such as Jody Craddock, Richard Stearman and Nenad Milijas found themselves left out of the squad altogether whilst ex-Manchester United striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was left to mull over his manager’s decision on the bench. A glance at the fixture list quickly explains the thinking behind McCarthy’s decision. The early afternoon kick-off against Burnley at Molyneux on Sunday is clearly a more presentable opportunity of gaining three points than a visit to the home of the title-holders. Whatever McCarthy says in the aftermath of this match, to all Wolves supporters the announcement of the teams over the Old Trafford PA system read more like a letter of resignation than a statement of intent. Whilst McCarthy will undoubtedly be criticised heavily in the morning newspapers, the main victims of his decision are the fans. The Burnley match was always going to be vital in Wolves quest for Premier League survival. It is now essential for McCarthy’s credibility amongst his own support.
Before a match against Arsenal in November, McCarthy was asked his opinion on Bryan Robson’s decision to field an understrength side against ‘Big-Four’ opposition whilst manager of West Brom. The Irishman’s response was commendable. “They got relegated didn’t they, so ultimately it didn’t work. Who am I to suggest to thousands of fans that I’ll be playing five or six players who aren’t my strongest?” Little over a month later McCarthy’s change of heart is staggering. Rather than playing those “five or six players”, he fielded what was essentially a reserve side with the exception of goalkeeper Hahnemann. What will rile the Molyneux faithful most is not the 3-0 defeat to the title chasers, it is the manner in which McCarthy chose not to give Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club the greatest possible opportunity to shock the champions in their own back yard. If McCarthy was in any doubt as to the opinion of the travelling fans in regard to his team selection, the chants of “we want our money back” from the away area of Old Trafford made the point brutally clear. You will be hard pushed to find a football fan who doesn’t agree with the discontent shown by the Wolves fans. It is easy to overlook the financial outlay that accompanies following a football team. An adult ticket for Old Trafford this evening would have cost the adult Wolves supporter £42, a fee all the more difficult to afford with Christmas fast approaching. In addition to this, a seat on the Official Wolves Supporter Coach would have cost £15. Without even considering the cost of refreshments, the very least a supporter would have expected as they arrived at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ was to see a competitive side walk out of the tunnel before kick off. Without being critical of the ‘reserves’ appetite for victory, every minute of the 3-0 United victory must have been a painful one for each away supporter. Every football fan expects those representing their club to give everything they have in order to send the fans away happy. Mick McCarthy didn’t even give them his first eleven. Incidentally, Burnley host Arsenal tomorrow night. Owen Coyle has instilled a mentality at Turf Moor that doesn’t accept surrender and makes it a very difficult place to visit. If Coyle’s full-strength side get a result tomorrow, it will feel like a game sacrificed by Wolves.
Football managers are paid to make big decisions. They are also paid to get these decisions correct. Mick McCarthy will face criticism from all angles in the days before the Burnley match, much of it from within. However, a victory on Sunday would go some way to healing the wounds of the Old Trafford no show. Football fans are a fickle bunch and three points at Molyneux would take Wolves above their opponents in the Premier League table. Although I don’t agree with McCarthy’s surrender before battle or lack of consideration for the fans, three points would go a long way to justifying his decision, in his own mind at least.