Category Archives: Wolves

Appointing a football manager? Forget the interview

by Adam Bate

There are lots of reasons why an interview is important when deciding which candidate should get the job.

A smart appearance is indicative of a fastidious approach. A personable style can suggest a warm and engaging individual capable of motivating others.

It is also a chance to find out more about a person’s career beyond the bland statistics of a written CV.

Anybody can find a couple of references. It is far trickier, when put on the spot, for a person to explain how their ideas were received and how they interacted with colleagues.

But none of these factors should be quite so significant in the world of football management.

A football manager’s record is there for all to see.

While the sales figures at Wernham Hogg’s paper company in Slough might not be common knowledge, it takes about 10 seconds to google the win-percentage record of a football manager.

Their tactics will have been endlessly evaluated in minute detail by a plethora of pundits and bloggers.

The world will have watched on as they battled through hundreds of press conferences and media interviews. Daily assessments will have been made of their ability to handle pressure.

In short, a football manager’s CV does not require a reference.

There are literally hundreds of thousands only too willing to provide that reference – even if, for many, it may involve just two words with one of them being of the four-letter variety.

And yet, despite all this, the indications are that this week a Premier League manager will be selected on the basis of a seven day job search and a 45 minute interview.

Some employers recruit temporary admin staff more thoroughly.

So while Wolverhampton Wanderers insist they had nobody lined up when sacking Mick McCarthy on Monday, chief executive Jez Moxey will place his faith in the interview process.

“There has to be chemistry and you never really know until you get it,” said Moxey.

As a result, the manager – arguably the most important figure at a football club, capable of shaping fortunes for decades to come – will not be decided on the basis of their CV, but over a quick chat and a coffee.

The irony, of course, is that you can learn how to perform well in an interview. These skills can be picked up. And one of the reasons for having lots of successful interviews is due to jumping ship a lot. Or, heaven forbid, sacked.

The very qualities a football club does not want in a manager.

So while Steve Bruce flounced from Sheffield United to Huddersfield, and from Wigan via Crystal Palace and Birmingham then back again, Alan Curbishley stayed put at Charlton. For 15 years.

Curbishley was learning how to guide his club to the dizzy heights of seventh in the Premier League.

But Steve Bruce was learning how to give a damn good interview.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise then, that Curbishley’s son Michael took to Twitter to confirm that that his father “wants it but didn’t feel very confident after the meeting!”

In football, as in any other walk of life, a good interview can be the difference between success and failure.

But when a football manager’s career can be pored over in greater detail than could ever be explained away in an interview, doesn’t that just feel wrong?

Mick in context – a look at McCarthy’s Wolves reign

by Adam Bate

To put Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers reign into perspective you need to go much further back than its beginning in 2006. You need to go back to 1989 – the year that Wolves won the old Division Three title.

Until McCarthy’s arrival at the club that was not only the last team to win a league title but it was also the last team that had a meaningful connection with the club’s supporters. It was the team of Steve Bull and a collection of other hard-working souls determined to give their all for the club despite being forced to train on the stadium car park because there was no training ground.

The facilities changed for the better when Sir Jack Hayward took the reins at Molineux in 1990 but somewhere along the way something more vital was lost. Wolves became a byword for big spending and bigger failures as the club became a victim of its own hubris.

Graham Taylor was indulged with the seven-figure signings of players such as Dean Richards, Steve Froggatt, Tony Daley, Don Goodman and Mark Atkins as Molineux heaved with expectation once more. In the 1994-95 season, Wolves’ average attendances were over 10,000 more than those at Sunderland, Derby, West Brom, Stoke or Bolton – but promotion did not come.

Mark McGhee followed and blew millions more before the spending reached an inglorious crescendo when Dave Jones splashed more than £13million in 2001 alone – only to see the disconnect between players and fans reach its nadir as the team collapsed in the run-in to allow rivals West Brom to claim promotion instead. The infamous ‘You’ve let us down again’ banner said it all.

By the time promotion finally came twelve months on, Hayward was spent-out and relegation was inevitable. Suddenly Wolves were saddled with an owner who’d lost interest and so it seemed strangely appropriate to go the whole hog and appoint a manager with little interest in the shape of Glenn Hoddle.

When the diffident Hoddle left the club in the lurch by quitting in the summer of 2006, Wolves were left with just nine fit players to report for pre-season training. Things appeared to have hit rock bottom.

Enter Mick

This was the environment into which McCarthy walked and immediately set about scaling back ambitions by declaring he was no magician. Fans feared the worst but with a young and hungry agenda and a fierce work ethic, McCarthy went to work.

Karl Henry was his first signing – a £100k capture from Stoke’s reserves. Stephen Ward arrived from Bohemians for £150k and Michael Kightly was snapped up for just £25k from non-league Grays Athletic.

Of course, some of the freebies weren’t up to scratch but it was refreshing to see a Wolves team battling against the odds for the first time in a generation. An extraordinary 6-0 home defeat to Southampton summed up the mood at Molineux as the fans supported the players – not because of some lame gallows humour – but out of a genuine belief that the players were giving it everything.

Two years later, McCarthy took Wolves to the title in brilliant fashion. His young team – only two of the first XI were older than 24 – played with enthusiasm and gusto as Wolves’ wingers Kightly and Matt Jarvis tore defences apart on a regular basis. It was a team to bring pride back to a city.

Going backwards

That McCarthy should find himself sacked three years on, having twice kept the club in the Premier League, may seem strange to some. But for all the accusations that can be thrown at Wolves owner Steve Morgan, the claim of the Daily Mail’s Des Kelly that the club has shown “no loyalty” to McCarthy must be particularly galling.

Premier League table as it stood in November 2010 (taken from the BBC website)

There were difficult days in McCarthy’s second season at the club, after which the manager himself admitted that if the fans had been given the choice between keeping him or keeping misfit striker Freddy Eastwood – a divisive figure at the club, who had become a champion for disenchanted fans – it would have been the manager to go.

But Morgan backed his man. He did so again when McCarthy was labelled a disgrace to the Premier League for making 10 changes for a trip to Manchester United. And the owner still remained calm throughout Wolves’ second season in the top flight, despite Wolves picking up just nine points from the opening 14 games and eventually being just three minutes away from relegation on a traumatic final day.

Morgan and the fans have watched on as arch-rivals West Brom have prospered. Albion were supposed to be the neighbours with the tight budget; the epitome of the yo-yo club. And yet, while McCarthy trudged on against the backdrop of ludicrously ambitious stadium expansion plans, it was the Baggies who acted so ruthlessly in ditching Roberto di Matteo in favour of Roy Hodgson just months after the former had taken the club to promotion.

For McCarthy it has been a death by a thousand cuts. There have been the bizarre selection decisions, the limited tactics and the nonsensical formation changes. The nagging belief that while the club made big plans off-the-field, on it things were beginning to slide – as evidenced by the fact that despite spending well over £40million since promotion, eight of the Championship team still regularly featured in McCarthy’s starting XI this season.

All that remained was for a knockout blow to be delivered. And a 5-1 derby defeat to your rivals is just about as emphatic as it can get. It was an insipid effort that crystallised feeling as it showcased many of McCarthy’s failings and none of his strengths. The tactical flaws were there for all to see – starting with all three strikers for the first time ever in a game he could not afford to lose. But gone was the fight and commitment so clear to see in all of his finest Molineux moments.

It was a result that changed the debate. No longer could the issue remain about who could do better. It now had to be framed in terms of who could do worse.

That’s a sad way for things to end for Wolves’ most successful manager in a generation. But as Morgan himself put it: “We had little or no choice.”

Karl Henry – Wolves’ not-so-tough tackler?

By Oli Baker

At the time of writing, no side in Europe’s top five leagues has made as few tackles per game as Wolves (15.4) or as few interceptions (11.9).

For a team that gained a reputation as being tough and uncompromising last season, these are startling statistics.

Although Wolves do fare quite well in the possession stakes, averaging 50.8% (8th highest in the Premier League) the fact remains that while Wolves are quite successful at keeping the ball, especially for a struggling team, they are truly woeful at winning it back.

It is hard to believe that this passive defending is a deliberate tactic from Mick McCarthy. For a manager that takes immense pride in the work ethic of his teams – and a man who physically cheered a tackle by one of his players at Old Trafford last season – it is unlikely he would regularly send a team out to sit off the opposition. This lack of tackles and interceptions has inevitable consequences – only Bolton and Norwich have conceded more shots per game than Wolves in the Premier League.

It is very clear Wolves do not possess a plethora of tough tackling players. In the entire squad, only Karl Henry can be viewed as a traditional defensive midfielder, putting in tackles and breaking up play. Herein may lay Wolves’ main problem. The one player that carries much of the team’s tackling burden, doesn’t really tackle. Anyone who saw his treatment of Joey Barton last season will be surprised to learn that Karl Henry has averaged just 1.2 tackles per game this season.

This does not compare favourably with players who are supposed to be of a similar ilk. Youssouf Mulumbu (3.7), Mohamed Diame (4.0) and Lee Cattermole (4.0) all tackle significantly more than the Wolves man. Even more creative players such as Yohan Cabaye (4.3) and Alejandro Faurlin (4.5) put Henry to shame in this department.

These facts are very much at odds with the general perception of Henry as a player. The infamous MOTD montage of his tackles on Barton was followed very quickly by Bobby Zamora’s broken leg, albeit from a legitimate tackle, and an extremely rash assault on Jordi Gomez, resulting in a deserved red card. Henry was very quickly painted as a villain.

This public witch hunt does seem to have changed Henry as a player. In the immediate aftermath Henry was visibly pulling out of tackles, and while that isn’t the case now, he does seem to have lost some of his aggression – not that he was ever as aggressive as perceived, as the tally of two red cards in more than 200 appearances for Wolves would testify. Manchester United’s first two goals in their recent 4-1 victory over Wolves are perfect examples of Henry failing to make necessary tackles.

Of course, there is more to defensive midfield play than solely tackling. Closing down players and space are both vital and much harder to analyse and report. Perhaps it is for these reasons why Henry is seen as indispensable by McCarthy. Yet, if you were to look at Wolves’ recent record with and without Henry it suggests McCarthy’s faith is misplaced.

Since the summer of 2010

With Henry on the pitch    (w-d-l)                      11         9          25

Without Henry on the pitch (w-d-l)                     8          1           6

In McCarthy’s defence, Wolves have been heavily linked with numerous midfielders in the past few weeks. However, the failure to provide competition for Henry – culminating in the bizarre claim that his team selection would be Karl “and 10 others” – has long been a puzzling aspect of McCarthy’s reign. Henry has certainly played his part in
Wolves’ recent success, and as a local lad who is clearly giving his all, he still has a lot of support amongst the Molineux faithful. But, the harsh reality is that Henry can no longer fulfil the role Wolves so desperately need.

*All stats are from WhoScored

The Molineux Milijas Mystery

by Oli Baker

With a return to 4-5-1 inevitable, the consensus among Wolves fans was that Nenad Milijas, with impressive performances as a substitute against Swansea and midweek against Man City, had done enough to earn his second start of the season at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Instead, Milijas was dropped from the match day squad.

Mick McCarthy will understandably point to Milijas’ performance from the start against West Brom as reason for his exclusion, and he would have a point. While he was by no means Wolves worst performer on the day, he did struggle to influence the game. However, with McCarthy’s apparent admission that Jamie O’Hara was better in a more advanced position (despite recently stating the opposite was true) a more withdrawn role was envisaged for Milijas, where his range of passing would be more effective.

Milijas is certainly a player with limitations. European scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen labelled him “a talented playmaker, with the mobility of a fridge”, which is pretty difficult to argue with. But he has made significant efforts to adapt to the rigours of the English game – his work rate is vastly improved and he’s far more tenacious than when he first arrived. This added to his obvious class on the ball, goal threat and confidence in his ability, makes him a rarity in a Wolves squad full of endeavour but short on craft.

Despite this, you do get the impression that McCarthy has never trusted Milijas, and at this stage of his Wolves career, it’s hard to believe that he ever will. If a starting XI involving Milijas is not performing well, it is inevitable that he will be taken off. And he will be nowhere to be seen come the next game, regardless of how he has performed in relation to others.

Whether the inclusion of Milijas on Saturday would have made any difference to the result is debatable – in reality it almost certainly wouldn’t. But the fact he was dropped from the entire squad was bizarre as he had shown against Swansea that he can have an impact as a substitute. Ordinarily, this would not be a major decision. But coupled with McCarthy’s slamming of the fans and our recent results, it is another small aggravating factor – something the manager could well do without.  

Perhaps the most pertinent point is that this further demonstrates that McCarthy has not got a clue what his best side is. As a result, you imagine that the chopping and changing of our midfield and formation will continue – something that will only be complicated further by the return of Steven Fletcher.

All we know at this stage is that – as the manager himself admits – it is “Karl Henry and ten others”.