There cannot be many things worse for a Premier League manager than international friendlies just three nights before the start of the new season. For Mick McCarthy, however, the Ireland vs. Argentina game almost proved a blessing in disguise.
Had Kevin Doyle managed to turn out for his country, he would have had a great opportunity to gain some much needed match fitness. His failure to recover from a muscle tear in time means that he is all but certain to miss out on Saturday’s opener against Stoke. Admittedly, the decision to risk the club’s top striker, in what is likely to be a highly robust game, might not have been the wisest of moves but it is always great to see a team begin the new campaign with their star players on show. It gives the fans something to be optimistic about and in games against similar strength opposition, partnerships can begin to properly develop. Doyle and Steven Fletcher, who returned unscathed from Scotland’s midweek defeat, could potentially link up fantastically and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later that this Celtic strike force can begin to flourish.
Another player who will be absent from the line-up against the Potters is Michael Mancienne. McCarthy’s refusal to stump up the £6m Chelsea are asking for their young defender is particularly intriguing considering that Wolves have spent almost £18m during the summer break. The England U-21 star spent the last two years at Molineux, a period which one might think is long enough to justify a permanent transfer. Whilst Mick has suggested that he would be happy to take the player back on loan for 2010/11, he has also admitted the club will not be buying anyone else, unless they can offload first. It is an interesting case and it must be especially difficult for Mancienne to see the Black Country side add unproven additions to their squad, yet refuse to open their chequebook to secure his permanent services. £6m may be expensive for a 22-year-old, but Mancienne is a future prospect and could be worth the investment. Manchester United forked out £8m for Chris Smalling and being a homegrown player always seems to inflate valuations. So is Mick being a shrewd businessman and waiting until nearer the transfer window, in the hope that Chelsea have to lower their demands, or is there something else behind his reasoning?
The answer might have something to do with Karl Henry. Confirmed as club captain this week, the fans’ favourite is a polished defensive midfielder, the very position that the Chelsea youngster is most apt in. Henry is also a true leader and his presence is going to be essential if Wolves have a few bad opening games. With the club likely to employ a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate Fletcher, there is going to be room for only one holding midfielder and there is no doubt about who that is going to be. Pinning all their hopes on Henry might be a little foolish since one suspension or ill-timed tackle could leave the midfield looking bare, but unlike Chelsea, Wolves cannot afford to spend millions on a player to warm the substitute bench, so perhaps a loan deal, in financial terms, is a more sensible decision.
Mancienne did have an impressive second half of the season but there can also be a tendency to remember last year with rose-tinted glasses. Until he was moved from centre-back to a defensive holding role, his performances were average at best and playing in the back four highlighted his naivety and how lightweight he can be. Because of this he cannot really be marketed as versatile. Perhaps this is why Mick is happy to take the player on loan but not shell out a fee for him. He clearly has potential, he demonstrated that against Arsenal last season with a really composed display, but he still has a lot to learn. At the moment fans want to see Michael do well, and indeed many are demanding for his return, because he is a promising English youngster. When he makes mistakes, many people are quick to defend him and declare he needs time. This changes when you have a hefty transfer fee on your shoulders. Suddenly supporters can become impatient if you are not performing and your displays become related to what price the club played. That kind of pressure could in fact wreck his development.
A number of fans, surprisingly, have also suggested that they do not want Mancienne back at Wolves because of the style of football he plays. They believe that their side needs creativity, not defensive minded players, and some have even called for Andy Keogh to remain at the club for this very reason. Flair players will inevitably create more scoring opportunities and if Fletcher, Doyle and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake can exploit this, then Wolves could become an attractive and successful side. For games like the one this Saturday, however, it will be interesting to see whether creativity can be maintained. Six of their last 10 meetings have ended in draws so another evenly matched and tough contest seems likely. One of the main problems with trying to play beautiful football is that when things start to go wrong, teams always end up switching back to the more physical style which was getting them points in the past. Wolves should be strong enough to not get dragged into a battle at the bottom of the table, but football can be a funny game. After all, if it had not been for their defence last year, Wolves would not even be a Premier League side this time round.