Mick McCarthy, Paul Lambert and the art of instruction

Given one chant from the Barclay, I suspect the rest of this paragraph isn’t going to generate much of a warm glow in these parts – but I feel sympathy for those banner-loving fans at Molineux.

Or maybe it’s Mick McCarthy I feel for, rather than Wolves. McCarthy has had a tough time of it this season as the self-asserted ‘sleeping giants’ of English football saw their significant development and improvement plateau with top-flight relegation struggles.

It is an ongoing issue with domestic football at the moment – all sides outside the big hitters start every season trying to prolong their Premier League status. This season we’ve all tasted what top-flight football means – clearly, it is the only place to be.

I personally think McCarthy would have kept Wolves up.

But that wasn’t what saw him kicked out – that was the manner of Sunday’s 5-1 home defeat to their fierce rivals.


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You can only imagine what the Baggies felt that day. Or take yourself back to Thursday, April 21, if you like. Whatever’s easiest.

Wolves looked lost on Sunday; devoid of any confidence and completely clueless over what their individual jobs were or how to go about them.

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No doubt there was a plan devised during the week – but McCarthy’s men could not put it into practice.

If you are a struggling side, that failure do turn a tactics board into three points is a regular occurrence. We all saw that at Norwich before Paul Lambert’s arrival, under various managers and groups of players.

And it is worth highlighting – given that under the current manager, it is rare any player looks unsure over what their role is or the team then fails to deliver.

Don’t forget, this isn’t a group that turns up with ‘their’ game and ‘the’ formation every week. The press room – like the stands – awaits the pre-match team sheet in a similar way to tucking into a Kinder egg.

Andrew Surman answered my question at Colney before City’s game at Swansea – and made the work of Lambert and Ian Culverhouse on the training ground and in meetings in the Colney mobiles sound very easy.

“We work a lot in the week on what we’re going to do on a Saturday so that anyone that comes in knows their job,” said Surman. “The manager makes sure he gets his point across; Cully as well.

“If you don’t understand, they are there to talk to and ask questions, and I suppose both have got experience as players as well.

“It’s a key thing this season. I’ll mention Benno (Elliott Bennett). He went in at right-back, knew what to do and knew his job, and I think everyone playing this season has gone out and done that.”

In some ways footballers are simple folk. Make them feel like world-beaters and those brick walls won’t stand a chance.

But there is a knack to communicating relentlessly changing plans and instructions to your group of players that they understand and almost always follow to the letter.

It’s what the game outside England thrives on – especially in major championships. It’s what has made Sir Alex Ferguson’s success so long and so fruitful and Old Trafford.

And in truth, it is what sets apart Mick McCarthy and his ex-Wolves from Paul Lambert.

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