McCarthy's Full Time

 

Dignity and honour in soccer have become virtually redundant, but Mick McCarthy did a little to restore these values in the way he handled his resignation as the Republic of Ireland manager earlier this week.

The bitterness and rancour of the summer and autumn were put aside as McCarthy bowed out with a humility and generosity of spirit that might have prolonged his tenure in the position if he had displayed the same attributes a few months earlier.

Nobody knows better than McCarthy that his role in the Saipan fiasco, which led to Roy Keane leaving the World Cup before a ball was kicked, will haunt his career for years to come. But it would be churlish to judge McCarthy's 68-match reign solely on his controversial handling of the Keane affair.

When the former Republic of Ireland captain took over from Jack Charlton in 1996 he was left with the task of replacing an aging squad and steering the team away from Charlton's much criticised style of play. Although he was a complete novice at international team management, McCarthy showed imagination and courage in introducing new players and tactics.

His teams earned a reputation for being formidable opponents and only play-off defeats by Belgium and Turkey prevented McCarthy from leading the Republic to the 1998 World Cup in France and Euro 2000. The experience gained in those two campaigns galvanised McCarthy for the 2002 World Cup campaign and it stands as a tremendous achievement that his team came through one of the toughest groups to qualify for this year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.

But managing a collection of highly-paid international football stars is not confined to results on the pitch. Getting the best from average players, handling the media, and coping with talented but temperamental players are also key elements of any manager's make-up.

In McCarthy's case, his well-known dislike of the media and his abrasive relationship with his best player were to be his undoing.

His employers, the Football Association of Ireland, failed him in the critical days in Saipan and immediately afterwards.

But ultimately McCarthy will rue his own inability to handle the off-field challenges that have become part and parcel of modern day football management.