A few weeks ago Ipswich scored what at the time looked like a late winner in the East Anglia derby at Carrow Road. As it turned out Norwich grabbed an equaliser in the 95th minute, but as Luke Chambers wheeled away and Ipswich thought the win was in the bag, Mick McCarthy celebrated in the only appropriate fashion: roaring a hearty “FUCK OFF” in the rough direction of his own support. Some 16 years after Saipan, he was telling someone else to stick it up their bollix.
This was a symbol of how McCarthy’s relationship with the Ipswich support had deteriorated, a man who looks like he has plenty of pent up frustration at the best of times exploding after months of grumbling, criticism and abuse. A parting of the ways seemed inevitable, and that was confirmed on Thursday when the club announced McCarthy would be leaving at the end of the season.
Attention now turns to who the new man might be. It’s vaguely pointless discussing the candidates in detail here: everyone interested will have their own theories as to who it should be, and to an extent it’s pot luck. With a few exceptions, there’s not really any such thing as a good manager in the Championship, merely the right manager.
It’s now Ipswich’s job to find the right manager. No small task, but it’s a decision that could potentially set the club up for great success, or condemn them to failure.
Because this is undoubtedly a good job. This is a club established in the Championship, with a selection of very good young players and whose ownership will almost certainly give any new man time. There isn’t much money available, particularly by the standards of some clubs in the division who have thought little of dropping £10-15million on a player, but as Cardiff are displaying this year you can build a promotion side without spending lavishly.
The fans will almost certainly give them time, too. The discontent in the latter days of McCarthy’s tenure had been building for a while, so those who wanted him out will presumably be glad that someone else is in the dugout, and thus allow some leeway.
There really isn’t any reason why Ipswich can’t become a version of Burnley, a modestly run club who made the right choice when appointing a new manager a few years ago. Finding another Sean Dyche involves a certain amount of catching lightning in a bottle, but it’s possible.
But here’s the rub. As well as this being a job full of potential for good, it’s also one with plenty of potential for bad. A good manager could take Ipswich to the Premier League: a bad one could take them to League One.
It’s a stretch to say McCarthy worked miracles, but certainly for the first four years of his tenure he did a very good job with limited resources. The team that made the playoffs in 2014/15 was basically cobbled together with bits of string and lolly pop sticks, a hodge-podge of unlikely free transfers and reclamation jobs that McCarthy fashioned into a decent side.
Put those resources into the wrong hands however, and calamity could ensue. There’s little indication that whoever replaces McCarthy will be given more resources than he was, so anyone who does take the job will work under similar constraints. He succeeded by having a nose for a bargain, but not every manager is blessed with that.
This won’t be another Sunderland. For all the problems that Ipswich have, it’s not a club that is rotting in full view of a dismayed public, but it is one that could fail pretty hard. Under a less skilled manager than McCarthy, a side with a small budget, a virtually anonymous chairman and discontent in the stands could have been a calamity.
That less skilled manager might be in charge next season, if they make a bad choice. This is a sliding doors moment for Ipswich, and the wrong move could be