x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Big Mick McCarthy has large heart

Did you see the celebration of Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, when his team had beaten West Ham at Upton Park?

It is Mick McCarthy's way or the highway.
It is Mick McCarthy's way or the highway.

Did you see the celebration of Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, when his team had beaten West Ham at Upton Park? Relief, joy, unadulterated delight. It's only a job half well done, because Wolves still need more points to be sure of safety, but seven points from their last three away games shows just how much the players are playing for the man known as "Big Mick".

I think he's the most underrated manager around, always in the shadow of the Roy Keane World Cup saga. Lesser men might have thrown the towel in, but not McCarthy. He took Sunderland into the Premier League from nowhere, with players he'd nicked for £10,000 (Dh54,000) here and there, and then completely ignored my advice to resign on the spot, because there was no way anyone could have kept them up with the funds available.

This time he's splashed out a bit and when £6 million was spent on Reading's Kevin Doyle the eyebrows were raised. Doyle has been one of the standout players of the season, ploughing that lone furrow in a system that McCarthy developed during the season. Originally he started with his preferred two up front, but soon realised it wasn't going to work in the league. Others like Matt Jarvis have been terrific, proving there is talent in the lower leagues and proving once again you have to be someone as good as McCarthy to spot it. His winger Michael Kightly, who he took from the non-league team, Grays Athletic, has hardly played this season.

I don't want to tempt fate, because I really hope Wolves stay up. If they do then the reputation of McCarthy is completely reinvented. He can get sides up. He can keep them up, and apart from Keane, it's doubtful you'll hear a player having a go at him, because what you see is what you get. If there's a more honest bloke in football, I'm yet to come across him. Go on the big man, it's about time people realised what a top manager you are.

I know Derek Whyte would tell you the Old Firm derby, between Rangers and Celtic, is the most passionate in football, and he could be right. Real Madrid versus Barcelona and AC Milan versus Inter Milan may be great derbies but this weekend, Burnley versus Blackburn is as bitter as anything around. The two sides hate each other. Irrationally - certainly. Forever - unquestionably. No one will get more stick at Burnley than Blackburn's David Dunn, who as a Blackburn lad has taken the mickey out of the Burnley fans for years. He told me about the his last trip to Turf Moor with Blackburn, when the police shut off the motorway which connects the two towns, for fear of trouble.

"Unfortunately," said Dunn, "some Burnley punters climbed onto an overhead bridge and when our coach came belting down the motorway doing 70mph, they started chucking bricks and boulders at it. They smashed into the windows and we thought we'd had it." If you've never seen one of these derbies, and you get the chance to go, don't miss it. Just make sure to get your tin hat on.

He's like the Duracell bunny, "Big" Ron Atkinson, who celebrated his 71st birthday with us on Showtime this week. His zest for life has left us all tired this week, but we got our own back when his mobile phone went off on the show. It was Brian Horne, the former Millwall goalkeeper, hoping on the off chance to catch Atkinson out, and the former Manchester United manager was gutted. "In 25 years of television that's never happened," said Atkinson. "The irony being, it's always been my job to make sure everyone else has theirs switched off before we go live."

sports@thenational.ae