James McCarthy: Celtic rejection was a blessing in disguise
Ireland and Everton midfielder James McCarthy has said that Celtic's rejection aged 14 has proven to be a blessing for both his club and international career.
The Scottish-born midfielder is preparing for his second Merseyside derby at Anfield this weekend but admits that the decision by the Glasgow giants to snub the player at youth level turned out for the best.
“I never thought it at the time – it was a bad night when they told me they had enough players – but what happened at Celtic was a blessing in disguise,” says McCarthy, whose pre-Merseyside derby experiences involved watching Henrik Larsson and Stiliyan Petrov in Old Firm meetings.
“Celtic were my boyhood club and I dreamed of playing for them but I went to Hamilton and took a different route and I don’t regret the way it’s turned out for me for club and country.
“With Liverpool I went there for a week, had a trial, played a game and was asked to sign, but I was not ready and wanted to stay longer in Scotland.
“I’ve no regrets at all. I’m happy to be with the blue side now. This club is going in the right direction.”
McCarthy has no hesitation when asked about the lowest point of his Everton career to date. “Definitely at Anfield last season,” he says. “A bad, bad night. Horrible. It was horrible.”
Returning to the scene of an accident is usually considered traumatic, but for the 23-year-old Saturday’s Merseyside derby is about redemption rather than regret.
Everton were beaten 4-0 last January at a time when Roberto Martínez’s side was still embracing the possibility of finishing above their rivals for a third consecutive season.
Instead, they will head to Anfield 15 years to the day since their last away derby victory. While the current side and manager have inherited the most significant chunk of that unwanted record, McCarthy’s one derby experience on away turf is motivation enough.
“They are our arch rivals so to go down 4-0 to them sticks with you and makes you determined to make amends. That’s what we want to happen this weekend,” he says.
“We were up there fighting at the time we played them and it was frustrating what happened. We know it was not acceptable and not good enough.
"Not to make excuses, but we did have a couple of injuries, and players like Ross [Barkley] coming back from injury, but it was a bad, bad night all round, for the players and the fans.
"We felt we let the club and each and every one of the fans down and we want to put that right.
“We went there to go for it and got caught out a couple of times, first from set pieces and then especially on the counter-attack.
"When you go to Anfield you want to play. You want to go there and play football the way it should be played. There is no way we would go there, sit in and play for a draw. We’ll do the same again at the weekend. We will be trying to beat them.
“It’s a big game for them as well, but we want to get back to winning and there is no better way of doing that or game to do it. I’m sure the manager will have his plan but it is not his way to go there and defend. We will always set up to win.”
If Everton’s attacking philosophy was their undoing last season, the opposite was said for most of their winless streak.
David Moyes was accused of playing to avoid defeat rather than release the shackles – even against weaker Liverpool teams – whereas Martínez regularly fends off allegations he is not cautious enough.
Whatever the circumstances since Kevin Campbell’s winner on Sept 27, 1999, it is a peculiar anomaly that such a traditionally hard-fought encounter has not produced more Everton success.
“It was a massive shock to me to hear it was 15 years since the last Anfield win, especially with the tradition of this club and history of the fixture,” McCarthy said. “I was surprised when I saw it was so long, but at the same time it means there is no better time to win there.
“We have the squad to do it. I remember last season people were saying how long it was since we had won at Old Trafford, and there was another record people were mentioning about how long it was since we’d won away at one of the top four teams.
Many of us were just new to the club so we just looked at it and thought we’d end those kind of records. That’s still how we look at it whether it’s in the Premier League or Europe.
“The players we’ve brought in here are top quality and there is a good vibe around the place, despite some of the results we’ve had.”
After successive defeats to Crystal Palace and Swansea, there is work to be done to ensure such rampant positivity is infectious.
When the much-loved but now sadly departed Pink Echo still thrived in Liverpool city centre on Saturday evening, defeats to local teams would be characterised with a weeping Toffee Lady or Liver bird. Had the results service still been published this season, it would have been dripping with the tears as Liverpool and Everton look to overcome difficult starts.
Whatever the result this weekend, McCarthy believes the advances both clubs made last season have been too easily forgotten.
“It’s getting worse in terms of how quick people make judgments,” he said. “We’re five games into the season and we’re disappointed to have lost the last couple of games, but there is so long to go. Look at what both teams did last season with most of the same players.
Everyone thought Liverpool were going to win the league until the last few games, and we were pushing for the Champions League for the whole season because we have a quality side here. That was over the course of a whole season this group of players was up there, not just a few games.
These seasons are hard and you will get setbacks along the way, but just as you don’t look too far ahead when you’ve had a good win it should be the same after you’ve lost. We’re a strong unit with great players.
“Of course this is a massive game. You want to win at your rivals, especially as we have not won there in so many years, but I would say there is even more pressure on them being at home with all the money they have spent and players they have brought in.”