When it comes to picking the starting line-up, managers and coaches know best
Irish legend Mick McCarthy on the importance of knowing who your best XI is, sticking to your guns, and picking the players you trust
I always tell players that if they impress me at training, they’ve always get a chance of playing. Some managers don’t seem to be too swayed by what happens in training but I always paid attention to it. If you turn up, just swan around and don’t try, you’ve got no chance of getting in. You’re just showing you’re unhappy, you think the manager’s a dick, you think everything he does is sh*t – attitudes like that are no good to me or any manager.
There weren’t too many times that players fell out with me over team selection. One occasion I recall was with Steve Staunton when we were in Portugal. We’d been to the World Cup together and played together for years but suddenly I wasn’t playing him and he did have a tantrum. I had serious words with him. He was better than that. I chewed him out but the funny thing is, once it happened, I got a couple of injuries and he ended up playing nearly all of the games anyway. He was brilliant for me. He’s a great pal of mine and I could have avoided dealing with it and let it fester, but I didn’t and thankfully we’re still great pals.
With the pre-tournament friendlies and training camp, Martin O’Neill has a chance to try a few things. One of the big talking points is whether he should pick players who are playing at a higher level but not seeing much game time versus players who have been playing at a supposedly lower level but playing a lot and playing well.
The most important thing in picking your first XI is trust. I learned that from Big Jack. There was so much clamour for me not to play under him but he picked me all the time. He picked me because he trusted me. He knew there was a partnership between myself and Kevin Moran that was really strong. Even when I was at Lyon and I wasn’t playing that much, he stood by me and made me captain for Italia 90.
I learned a lot from Jack in that respect – about treating players with respect and resisting temptation from outside influences to make changes. That’s important because once results start going against you, the media start saying everyone behind you in the pecking order is a better player. But you know what, they’re not. Managers and coaches know best – there are a few mistakes and players can prove you wrong – but in general we know. You stick with the lads you trust and unless there’s a really obvious candidate who is on fire, you trust in your players and your faith will be repaid. Jason McAteer ahead of that Holland game is the case and point. He wasn’t getting his game at Blackburn and he was probably the only majorly controversial choice in my team but I stuck with him because he always performed well for me. I’m too belligerent to listen to what other people say, but it worked out well.
If you get a committee to design a horse you end up with a f*cking camel.
I never had any real difficulty with players getting the hump for not playing or not being in the squad. I had to tell Mark Kennedy he wasn’t in the squad ahead of the World Cup. He was just coming back from injury and he was miles off the pace. That was tough. I had him at Millwall and he was a great kid. He used to babysit my kids when he was a young player at The Den and he’s now my under 21s coach at Ipswich. There were no tantrums, but that was tough.
Coming into a tournament, you’ve got the issue of players who start to twig they may not be in the manager’s first XI. It usually doesn’t happen in one single moment. It’s a process. Players knew during my time and they will know from Martin’s two years in charge of Ireland that he has certain preferences and it shouldn’t surprise too many people what the first team looks like. If you think about it, it should be quite predictable. You could probably have guessed at least seven of eight of my team and it’s similar with Martin. The problem is people get a bit tired of it and want to see someone they perceive as being better. You always hear the clamour for someone who is having a really good time at club level, but there’s no guarantee that will transfer to international football.