Express & Star

Seeds of doubt sown when transfer funds dried up

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It was a sunny afternoon last June when I got a call that set alarm bells ringing.


Mick McCarthy's sacking can be traced back to the summer transfer window as the owner's faith began to waver, writes Tim Nash

It was a sunny afternoon last June when I got a call that set alarm bells ringing.

It came from a trusted contact and the following 10 words, coming in the middle of the close season when hopes were high of signing players, shocked and surprised me.

"I think this is going to be Mick's last season," said the voice.

The caller went on to express concern that the board weren't backing McCarthy with the transfer funds he wanted.

At the time, Wolves hadn't signed any players, although negotiations to bring in Roger Johnson – still vastly over-priced by Birmingham at that moment – were going on in the background after McCarthy identified him as his number one target in May.

The particular transfer the caller mentioned was Craig Gardner, who was said to be keen to come to Wolves and that the club had matched Sunderland's £4.5m bid.

Birmingham had told the two clubs to sort it out between themselves, but any chance Wolves had of landing the midfielder were scuppered by personal terms.

In the end, McCarthy got one of his wishes when they signed Johnson after Gardner slipped through their grasp.

But the seed had been planted and the tensions began to grow behind the scenes.

Around the same time, contact was made to Wolves from an agent representing Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye.

But he was told their wage demands were too high and they ended up at Newcastle.

More recently, Wolves were offered the chance to sign three players at Manchester City – Nedum Onuoha, Wayne Bridge and Abdul Razak. But for whatever reason, they didn't come.

It wasn't the first time there have been tensions between chairman Steve Morgan and McCarthy.

McCarthy admitted himself that the previous occasion that he feared he was in danger of the sack was after the infamous 'Old Traffordgate' in December 2009 when he made 10 changes to his team and lost 3-0 to Manchester United.

It was said that Morgan was so incensed, he didn't speak to McCarthy for days.

The manager was so concerned for his job that he asked backroom staff to go to his house on the Friday night for farewell drinks when he told them that if Wolves didn't beat Burnley on the Sunday, he was out.

Wolves won and he was off the hook.

Since then, there has been more understanding and patience from Morgan, with chief executive Jez Moxey a conduit between the pair. Two successful fights against relegation helped improve the relationship between chairman and manager. But Moxey's role in McCarthy's longevity in the role shouldn't be underestimated.

Having dismissed two managers (Colin Lee and Dave Jones) and having seen another (Glenn Hoddle) resign, Moxey knows how easy it is to sack a boss but how hard it is to find the right replacement.

And the man who runs the club day-to-day has been McCarthy's chief ally for years.

But the nagging doubts didn't go away and surfaced in the January 2012 transfer window.

I had heard Mick was going to be given as much as £4.5m to spend.

And yet, when it came to it, chief target Onuoha went to QPR and other players he wanted, such as Wigan midfielder Mohamed Diame, weren't available.

Eventually, they signed Sebastien Bassong and Emmanuel Frimpong on loan after snapping up Eggert Jonsson.

Djibril Cisse, who went to QPR, was one of the names put forward but was told he was too expensive.

There is a saying that players, not results, get managers the sack. But in trying to move to the next level and signing big-money players, Johnson and Jamie O'Hara, they introduced a new type of signing that had to be bedded in to a solid dressing room.

No-one is saying the arrival of Johnson has brought about the current situation.

But his ascension to the role of captain appears to have had a de-stabilising effect on both player and manager. It didn't allow Johnson the time to bed in and develop his form.

And the appointment of him as skipper upset the 'old guard' from a dressing room that considered Karl Henry to be their leader.

Any compromise to the renowned team spirit was always going to have a negative impact the dressing room. And there were suggestions that the harmony within the camp had been disrupted in recent home games.

Johnson is a straight-talker and, after Henry's sending off against Villa, there were rumours of an altercation between the pair after the game when the captain is said to have hit out at the midfielder's role in the defeat.

The next home match against Liverpool was the biggest sign of unrest from the very top.

Whichever way you look at it, the intervention of chairman Morgan in a rant at the players seriously undermined McCarthy's position.

In McCarthy's eyes, Morgan had crossed a line by walking in on his territory and the pair had words afterwards. The message was clear: Results had to improve or else.

There is never one single factor that brings down a manager. But if the appointment of Johnson as skipper is one, then the defender's below-par form over the first half of the season is another.

Johnson is not the only one who will be taking a look in the mirror today, asking himself if he could have done better.

The importance of Henry was there for all to see yesterday, with no-one who could tackle or close people down effectively as the former skipper completed his three-match ban.

And with injury cruelly robbing them of Emmanuel Frimpong for the rest of the season, after just five games, that was another big factor that showed luck had seriously turned against the manager.

McCarthy, however, leaves with his head held high. He restored pride in the club and gave the fans renewed purpose and plenty to cheer after the antiseptic, aimless reign of Glenn Hoddle.

He restored a fierce work ethic in a group of players perhaps not seen since the halcyon days of Stan Cullis that had only shown signs of wavering along with the shambolic events of yesterday. He gathered a group of previously little-known players and fashioned them into a tight unit that gave every drop of effort.

Such a fiercely proud man of honour, the belief and loyalty he showed to his players was reflected in the passion he got from them on the pitch.

It is impossible to cover a team without getting to know the person who manages the club.

Behind the scenes, life was never dull.

Never one to suffer fools gladly, you had to make sure every question was phrased correctly because it could depend whether or not you got an answer. But the rugged, uncompromising exterior belies a man of fierce principle and honesty, and an unshakeable desire to do the right thing.

He is a big man in every sense of the word and he is a man of big gestures.

Naturally confrontational, his presence fills the room and it was common to see him shaking the hands of everyone in a press room at Christmas time. Many acts of charity went unseen: Indeed, he has been known to threaten to refuse to carry out his duties if it was to be reported in the local press, so determined he was not to be 'pressing the flesh' just for the sake of cheap publicity.

His fierce principles means he was the second successive Wolves manager that the Express & Star didn't have a telephone number for after Hoddle. I could have got a number for him from any number of reporters up and down the country, but I was told by him in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't welcome a call from any reporter.

And I didn't want to compromise the professional relationship I had with him, which allowed me to see him for up to half an hour for our weekly 'locals' sessions at the Compton training ground.

But his desire to always try to do the right thing still affected me personally as well.

I only missed one game during the Championship-winning season, the 3-2 win at Sheffield United in November 2008.

There was a good reason for it – my wife suffered a miscarriage and I took a few days off work for us to be together. Just 45 minutes before Wolves were due to kick-off at Bramall Lane, my mobile phone rang.

It was McCarthy, asking about my other half's health, wishing me all the best and saying he was looking forward to seeing me back 'sparring' on the circuit again soon.

He didn't need to do that but it was a measure of the man, how he is always looking to do the right thing by people.

It probably explains why he got so much out of the players for so long.

He will be missed and he leaves a big gap to fill. Wolves can only hope their next appointment is as successful.

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