MAGIC MICK: HOW MCCARTHY TRANSFORMED CARDIFF'S SEASON
Since returning to British soil following an unsuccessful tenure on the Mediterranean with Cypriot outfit APOEL Nicosia, Mick McCarthy has sparked a remarkable revolution at Cardiff City.
Truth be told, it is impossible to unearth the words to fully illustrate McCarthy’s invigorating impact.
At the start of the month, Cardiff lingered in 16th place, hovering only five points clear of the relegation zone. Since then, an astronomical upturn has skyrocketed the side all the way up to eighth, with the Bluebirds currently on a seven game unbeaten streak.
In this piece, I will be offering my insight on Mick McCarthy’s reconstructed revival against all odds.
A tactical reinvention
I am not suggesting Mick McCarthy has got the Bluebirds playing a phenomenal brand of football mirroring that of Pep Guardiola’s sextuple-winning Barcelona side of the 2009/10 campaign- far from it.
But, what he is doing, is utilizing the strengths of the group and juicing every drop of talent out of Cardiff’s squad.
Prior to the veteran’s arrival, Cardiff had not experimented with 5 at the back since their crushing 6-1 pounding at the hands of QPR on the opening day of 2020, a thorough deterrent from redeploying it.
Undeniably, it has paid dividends for the Bluebirds so far.
Joe Bennett and new boy Perry Ng have thrived with an additional attacking license, wowing viewers with their supporting runs, energy and overlaps.
Three central defenders in Sean Morrison, Curtis Nelson and Aden Flint, the latter of whom is one of the chief beneficiaries from the change in formation, ensure that Cardiff have defensive cover and are rarely caught out on the counter.
In the middle of the park, the high-flyers are also extremely well-drilled. More often than not, the midfielders sit deep and are able to dictate the tempo as well as injecting a robust, industrious approach.
This benefits the team from an attacking perspective as there are less (although far from none) defensive responsibilities, therefore allowing them to get on the ball and advance further upfield.
Euphorically, creative centrepiece Harry Wilson has flourished in the number 10 role. This switch significantly raises Cardiff’s tempo and dynamism; Wilson drifts into pockets of space, drives forward intently and with a role of enhanced freedom, is able to get on the ball as much as possible and weave his wizardly wand of Welsh magic.
It has worked a treat. In his last six matches before revelling under the tutelage of McCarthy, Wilson had not registered a single goal contribution. But since then, a goal and five assists in seven outings have played a pivotal role in propelling his side up the table.
Lastly, McCarthy has found his most effective strategy at the top end of the pitch. Kieffer Moore had been tried and tested across the campaign alongside both Robert Glatzel and Mark Harris, though neither yielded fruition.
However, Moore is enjoying great success partnered with Josh Murphy or Sheyi Ojo. Both are willing runners and embrace making darting runs in behind, whilst they can also make good of Moore’s frequent flick ons.
Cardiff’s forward line continuously stretches defences and owing to a mixture of physical prowess and calculated movements off the ball, space in other areas is frequently created.
As of present, it is all coming together and it serves as little surprise why, over the last seven games, not one side throughout the division can eclipse Cardiff’s seventeen goals scored.
Reinvigorating the spirit
Cardiff have long been famed for their battling, spirited approach. The Bluebirds’ promotion-winning 2017/18 campaign was an undoubted epitome of this.
Prior to McCarthy’s arrival though, a stark contrast was drearily observed. It seemed the players lacked confidence in their own abilities, embodied by the host of errors and lapses of concentration that plagued the side.
Not only in terms of how they are performing, the players have been totally transformed on a psychological level too.
This particular element struck me almost instantly; McCarthy is well-renowned for his man-management skills and it is easy to understand why.
One individual who exemplifies those qualities is Josh Murphy. A symbol of peripherality not so long ago, the 26 looked destined for the exit door having scarcely featured all term.
But under the leadership of ‘Big Mick’ and his arm-around-the-shoulder treatment, Murphy has been a man resurrected, finding the back of the net twice and providing a further three assists since his elevated role.
From a general view, the spirit of the Cardiff City camp appears thoroughly reignited. On the field, everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction, displaying boundless volumes of fight and willingness to boot.
And putting yourself in the position of a player, it must be refreshingly enviable working under McCarthy and his partner-in-crime Terry Connor. The two have developed a cult following in South Wales, quickly gaining the captivation of supporters due to their charismatic, animated demeanour.
McCarthy really gets it. You feel that he suits Cardiff down to the ground similarly to how Neil Warnock did; it is that traditional, gritty manner that wins the hearts and souls of the City faithful.
Cardiff’s next generation
This category is not something that the 62-year old can assume all credit for. In spite of the critique arrowed in his direction, former boss Neil Harris provided the foundations for a successful transition with the youth setup.
Subsequently, many feared for the ascendancy of Cardiff’s various youth teams when McCarthy agreed a short-term contract. With such limited time penned down, supporters felt that progression in this department would evade grasping.
Thankfully, that has not been the case. In fact, it has been the polar opposite.
Some of the club’s most highly rated prospects have continued to taste frequent involvement with the eighteen man squad, such as Isaak Davies, George Ratcliffe and Tom Sang.
Moreover, academy star Rubin Colwill registered his professional debut in Cardiff’s recent 3-1 victory over Coventry City, coming on as a last minute substitute for Harry Wilson.
Ultimately, football is a results-based industry. There is no sole merit for dominating the lion’s share of possession, or formulating a tiki-taka style to no avail. Sure, it looks good, but what is it really worth if you fail to get the ball in the back of the net?
Fancy football is, for me, a real bonus. The primary focus is grinding down your opponents, winning your battles, working as a unit and displaying moments of quality to reign victorious.
Make no mistake about it, that perfectly describes McCarthy’s approach.
In Kieffer Moore, you have that clinical edge that can always be relied on and a host of separate qualities to consume audiences with awe.
And then, players such as Harry Wilson, Josh Murphy and Sheyi Ojo grant a mercurial sense of creativity and inventiveness in the final third.
Those are the players who, at this level, will provide moments of decisive, match-winning brilliance.
Behind them, the foundations for stability, grit and relentless graft are prominent. McCarthy has developed an ambience of trust and already, the squad look willing to run through walls for the former-Wolves boss.
Cardiff do not need to hog the ball or play aesthetically-pleasing, easy to the eye football. As midfielder Will Vaulks stated, the Bluebirds are “horrible” to play against.
Consistently, Cardiff are physical, hard-working and dogged. The Welsh International’s statement could not contain more truth.
The impact is, by all accounts, multidimensional and Mick McCarthy has really got Cardiff City rocking and rolling once more.