The League Managers Association speaks to Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy, who has breathed new life into the Suffolk club since arriving earlier on this season.
How ready and keen were you to resume managing when the Ipswich opportunity arose?
Very keen, I had been out for eight months which I think surprised a few people when they heard the length of time I had been out. It was only actually around three months of the football season as the rest was mostly the summer. I was ready to go back as I felt that I had been out of the game for too long.
What convinced you to take the Ipswich job over other opportunities?
There is an assumption that I had loads of other opportunities in the summer which I didn’t. My name was linked with lots of jobs and I certainly didn’t go round speaking to them all. Any of the ones I did speak to however I would always keep to myself.
When I spoke to Ipswich they were rock bottom but everyone always speaks about this club in glowing terms and I have found that all to be true in the weeks that I have been here. But of course the team is struggling. If it wasn’t they wouldn’t have had a change of manager so I looked at all of that and asked ‘can I turn it around and keep the club up?’ and I thought, ‘yes, I can.’ I think it is a good opportunity to build something once we have achieved our first objective which is to stay in the Championship.
How do you approach taking charge of a team in the circumstances that Ipswich presently find themselves in – namely that the club has done well so far, but still finds itself in relegation trouble?
It is like any other place that you find yourself. Generally you get a job because a team has been struggling so you have got to turn results around and probably turn around people’s mind sets and attitudes. You need to build some confidence and the only way that can be achieved is through winning games.
It’s like anywhere else though, you just have to win football matches. There is no other agenda for a manager than winning football matches. Behind that it might be building a good squad and developing the academy but fundamentally it is about winning games.
Is improving morale amongst the players one of the first objectives, and if so how do you go about doing that?
Yes, I don’t think there is a bad atmosphere here – we have got a good set of lads who all get on well and work hard. There are no shirkers here, looking at all the stats and Prozone on how far they run and how hard they work. The problem with that is it’s probably them chasing the ball rather than having the ball and making the opposition run around.
As I said already confidence comes from being organised, not getting beaten and believing in what you are doing. When that starts to produce results confidence comes and morale gets better, team spirit improves and the whole town feels better also.
You’ve won promotion to the Barclays Premier League twice before with both Sunderland and Wolves, how important will that pedigree be in achieving progress with Ipswich?
I think in any job experience is important. I have been there, seen it and done it at this level. Whatever job you are doing that is vital, you don’t generally employ people with no experience although it happens on the odd occasion. I have been there and know what it takes to get promoted, the kind of players you need to play in the league and I think it is vital to have that.
The Championship currently has lot of very experienced managers with Steve Bruce, Ian Holloway, Tony Mowbray, Neil Warnock to name just a few. What is your assessment of the calibre of the league?
There is a fair group of experienced managers in the league – you can’t mention them all. In the Championship overall it looks like the top of the league has some very good teams. We have played Crystal Palace and Leicester who were both excellent, I have seen Cardiff and they look a really good side as well. Down beneath them there are a lot of teams that are all fairly similar who are battling away for those play-off slots and like every other year everyone can beat everyone. It is a very tough league to play in.
Given recent managerial departures, how important is it that when taking a new job the club is stable from the boardroom down and that you will be given a fair shot?
It is vital. One of the questions people always ask is why did I take the job? It’s because I met Marcus Evans, the owner, who is a great guy and he has supported the previous managers before me. The club is very stable financially because of Marcus’s backing and then within that I am dealing with one man who makes the decisions which is great.
Having a good relationship with the owner or chairman is vital. Stability helps; it’s a nightmare if there are rumours of a takeover happening and you losing your job all the time. I am delighted to be here working in stability but you still have to get results because that is what determines your future.
How easy was it to convince Terry Connor to join you again after he had had experience of management himself following your departure from Wolves?
I am sure some people think that Terry and I didn’t talk when he was manager but we had five years of real close friendship so of course we talked. I know he enjoyed his stint as the manager, making the decisions and planning everything but he was involved in all of that anyway when I was the manager. We have a really good working relationship there is no difficulty at all. He inherited my job at Wolves because of circumstances, but that was a tough job when the two of us were there and it just made it even tougher when I left. We have got a really good relationship and friendship. In terms of our business working relationship that is terrific and it’s not me making all the decisions and him just agreeing, it’s a good partnership that we have.
It’s only 10 years since Ipswich were competing in European football. Do they belong in the Barclays Premier League and is that your long-term ambition for the club?
Well I think there are 18 teams in the Championship that have been in the Premier League and that is the promise land, it’s utopia where everybody wants to be. Along with Ipswich who have been there and think they should be there are another 17 teams who think the same. So do the other six who haven’t been there. That makes it a real tough scrap and the amount of money that is made available when you get promoted makes it so desirable for everyone and that makes it harder to get there. We want to be there but this season we need to concentrate on staying in the Championship first.