Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mick McCarthy

1989 - 90 : Olympique Lyonnais (France)

When he left Glasgow Celtic in the summer of 1989, straight talking Republic of Ireland captain Mick McCarthy was already 30 years old. Arguably with his best years behind him, he sought out new pastures and a new challenge by moving to France and the Stade Gerland.

Having had a successful career, first with home-town club Barnsley and then with Manchester City, the defender moved to Glasgow in 1987. With the Bhoys, McCarthy won the Scottish Premier League in 1988, as well as two Scottish Cups in 1988 and 1989. These would be his only trophies as a player.

In 1985, the Heysel Stadium disaster had sent shockwaves throughout the continent, and in the aftermath, English teams were banned from European competitions for 5 years. This led in turn led to a large exodus of British and Irish footballers to Germany, Spain, Italy and France in order to play in the Champions Cup and UEFA Cup. It was during these years that Frank Stapleton, Gary WaddockKevin Moran, Ashley Grimes, John AldridgeMichael Robinson and John Byrne would create small Irish ex-pat communities in foreign leagues.

And so it was, on the back of his latest Cup triumph that Mick McCarthy took his straight talking attitude to Olympique Lyonnais. On the day of the transfer, he was taken to a very fancy restaurant where the special was salmon in a rich sauce. Everybody ordered it and the dishes duly arrived, four salmon with sauce and one grilled and plain, placed in front of Mick. He drew attention to the oversight and it was explained that the chef knew he was a footballer and that footballers were not allowed rich sauces. ‘Look, I’m 30 years old,’ McCarthy explained patiently, ‘I’ve played 400 games, I’m mortgaged up to my t***, and I would like some sauce with my salmon.’

Regarded today as one of France's most high profile clubs, Lyon were however in 1989 newly promoted to Division One (now known as Ligue 1). By then the club's only trophies had been 3 Cups in the 60s and 70s, as well as some other minor competitions. The previous season's Division 2 had seen them top Pool B and earn automatic promotion. They were founded in 1899, and have since 1926 played at the Stade de Gerland, which today has a capacity of 40,000 people. 

McCarthy wasn't the only Irishman knocking about in France that year. John Byrne had been at Le Havre for over a year. Frank Stapleton meanwhile had returned to Britain.

Lyon side in 1989. McCarthy is at the centre of the back row.
He was signed by Lyon's coach, future France manager Raymond Domenech, and notable team-mates were Bruno N'Gotty and Remi Garde.

The season didn't start well for Lyon though, as they went down 1-4 to Marseille in the opening game, at home. Their form was inconsistent however, yet a number of big wins against Toulouse, Metz and Lille had Lyon in mid table. McCarthy's career in France started very brightly however and he made 10 appearances for Les Gomes before Christmas, scoring 1 goal. However, early in the new year he sustained a knee injury and failed to force his way back into the first team.

This was bad for McCarthy for more than one reason. Ireland had just qualified for their first ever World Cup, and a lack of first team football would seriously hinder his chances of making the Irish squad. By March, Lyon were prepared to let him go, and slapped a price tag of 500,000 pounds on his back. However, the only side interested, Millwall, could only afford a loan deal.

And so he was sent to the Den in the spring of 1990. Despite Millwall getting relegated to the 2nd Division, they did opt to sign McCarthy on a permanent deal that summer. 

Back in Lyon, the first season back in the top flight was a successful one as they finished in a respectable 8th place, over 10 points clear of relegation. One big star for the side that year was Congolese striker Eugene Kabongo who  netted 12 goals in the league. The league that year was won by Marseille, who had Englishman Chris Waddle in their ranks.

That summer, McCarthy was instrumental in helping Ireland reach the Quarter Finals of the World Cup in Italy, where they were eventually put out by the hosts. He remained with Millwall for another two years before becoming their manager in 1992. In 1996, he was appointed manager of the Republic of Ireland team, and would lead them to the World Cup finals in Korea/Japan in 2002, before taking up various jobs in English football. As of winter 2012, he is in charge of Ipswich Town, in England's second tier.

McCarthy is now manager of Ipswich
It could be said that McCarthy's move to Lyon happened too late in his career, and much like Frank Stapleton, his best days were behind him. However, it can also be argued that McCarthy's time at Lyon might have been successful had it not been for the injuries he sustained, and the subsequent battle for first team football. He could probably have eventually forced his way back into Domenech's side, but at what cost? It is only right that he got to play at Italia '90, even if it meant becoming yet another Irish Continental flop.

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