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Saturday 27 February 2021

McCarthy not damaged by Apoel sacking but he leaves Jack Byrne at a club in turmoil

McCarthy’s stint at the Cypriot giants has lasted just nine games, and his reunion with Jack Byrne lasted less than a week.

File photo of Mick McCarthy.
File photo of Mick McCarthy.
Image: Adam Davy

THE BACON SLICER shimmers more menacingly at Apoel Nicosia.

Mick McCarthy was sacked by the Cypriot club on Wednesday, a day after giving Jack Byrne his debut in what just his ninth game in charge. 

A 2-1 defeat to eighth-placed Doxa was Apoel’s fourth loss on the trot; a run too poor for McCarthy’s trigger-happy bosses to countenance. 

The sacking of an Apoel manager is dog-bites-man territory for the news media: McCarthy was their 17th manager across the last seven years, and the club went through five last season alone.

The hiring and firing of managers at Apoel seems to be the internal combustion needed to keep everything propelling along the tracks and, up to recently, it was working: Apoel won seven-straight league titles between 2012 and 2019, the first of them coming weeks after a famous run to the Champions League quarter-finals. 

But this fuel’s half-life is short, and Apoel are now dealing with the decay. 

A club that not long ago had a patent on the league title are now effectively battling relegation, and are a point from the drop zone, albeit with two games in hand. 

And now they languish without McCarthy, who lost five and won three of his nine games in charge. 

McCarthy rarely criticises his players in public – that he refused to do so with Ireland was one of the few things that set him apart from Martin O’Neill – but he smashed that glass after the emergency of last Saturday’s miserable 2-0 defeat to bottom-of-the-table Paralimni. 

mick-mccarthy-looks-on-as-james-collins-and-jack-byrne-make-their-debuts McCarthy gives Jack Byrne his senior international debut against Bulgaria in 2019. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

McCarthy apologised to the Apoel fans watching from home, declared himself shocked and embarrassed and lamented his side’s lack of desire and determination. 

“I joined the biggest and best club in Cyprus, but I haven’t got the best team”, he said, in that surprisingly mordant way of his. “Maybe we’re not good enough, and it’s time to start accepting that.” 

If that was done to provoke a reaction, it didn’t work: Apoel sank to a 2-1 loss away to eighth-placed Doxa on Tuesday. Jack Byrne made his debut as an 86th-minute substitute in that game, but it was to be the first and last time he played under his old international boss at Apoel.

This sacking is hardly emblematic of a rank failure on McCarthy’s part and shouldn’t blemish his CV too badly, given Apoel’s berserk treatment of their managers. 

This early dismissal also didn’t take into account the mitigating circumstances of the pandemic, either. McCarthy’s short stint in charge was interrupted by a severe Covid-19 outbreak in December, with 18 players contracting the virus. 

Plus, McCarthy had a contract worth a reported €300,000 a year running to 2022, so he will leave with a hefty settlement.

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McCarthy retained a UK media presence while in Cyprus – granting an interview to TalkSPORT and offering Stephen Kenny some words of support in a press release issued by a betting company – and so if he wants to find more work, he’ll probably find it. 

McCarthy is not the focus of Apoel fans’ ire, either. No, that is directed squarely at the board, who have now cycled through too many coaches to mask their own failures. 

The board seems to lurch from one solid position to another: last week they sanctioned McCarthy to sign Byrne and English striker Joe Garner, only to sack him a week later. (McCarthy’s planned move for Wigan’s Kal Naismith has now been abandoned.)

The turnover of managers at Apoel has been matched by that of the players – Byrne is the club’s 117th signing since 2012 – and the endless churn has exacerbated a bad financial situation, with debts reportedly between €15 and €18 million. 

As a result, an off-field power struggle threatens to envelop the season. Apoel’s first team are operated by a separate limited company, an agreement which the football club votes to renew every five years. The renewal is up for decision next year, and Paris Spanos, a prominent member of the football club, this week called on the present board to resign. 

So where does that leave Jack Byrne? 

He had a number of offers on the table as a free agent, and spoke about taking time to carefully consider all of the options ahead of him. His strengths do not ideally suit the cut and thrust of the English Championship, and it is understandable he would look to Europe, given his best spell outside of Ireland was with Dutch side Cambuur. 

And given Apoel’s fast fashion, he has presumably gone there with his eyes open to the likelihood of his reunion with Mick McCarthy being curtailed. 

That said, he can’t have imagined it lasting all of one game, and Byrne must now impress the latest manager, former Cyprus international Savvas Poursaitidis. (Given Apoel’s wretched run of form, at least competition for places shouldn’t be too intense.)

The club are currently looking over their shoulders, and while relegation remains unthinkable, they are running out of time to put themselves into contention for Europe. 

The Cypriot league season splits in half after two rounds of games, with the top six playing for the title and Europe and the bottom six playing to avoid the final relegation spot (the bottom two sides at the split are automatically relegated.) 

Thus Apoel have 10 games to bridge an eight-point gap to the top six but if Byrne can help them make it, Stephen Kenny won’t be able to ignore him for the first round of World Cup qualifiers in March. 

Games over which Mick McCarthy may yet be talking on television. 


About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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