Former Hamilton defender Andrew MacLean reveals the secrets behind James McCarthy’s success at Everton - all built in South Lanarkshire.
It was Christmas 2006 and McCarthy had to make one of the most difficult decisions of his career. Having ventured down south to partake in a week’s trial with Liverpool, the Merseyside club were left impressed and attempted to sign Hamilton’s up and coming midfielder.
But as McCarthy explains, “Liverpool were going to sign me, they wanted to try and do a deal, but at the time it wasn’t right for me. I was still young and wanted to go back home to play first team games for Hamilton in the First Division.
“It would have been bigger obviously, but the whole thing about moving away, I just didn't want to do that. I wanted to stay at Hamilton with the good bunch of boys who were there. I knew everything about it and I wasn't far from my house, so it was ideal for me.”
McCarthy would go on to amass 95 appearances and 13 goals for the South Lanarkshire club between 2006 and 2009. His last season for the club in 2008-2009 was undoubtedly his finest as he took home the SFA Young Player of the Year Award and the SPL Young player of the month award twice.
The race for his signature was on and it was Wigan which were successful with a reported £1.2 million bid, securing McCarthy’s signature on a five-year deal.
After witnessing first hand, the operations and youth policy that encompasses Hamilton Academical, I have no doubt in my mind that McCarthy was right to stick with his gut when he rejected the Liverpool move.
Going into training at Hamilton, you never knew what to expect. That was the gaffer’s style. Billy Reid loved to throw young lads into the deep end to see what they were made of, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Before my time at Hamilton, I never thought a football club could operate in the way that I had would come to know over my five-month stint.
During my three-week trial period prior to signing with the club, I went to training one day expecting to join the rest of the youth players like I had done the previous week. This morning was different, however, as I was called onto the bus with the rest of the young boys who were in the senior squad. Headed straight to training where we would unload the balls, cones, and bibs and put together full size goals accompanied with nets, then wait for the senior players to arrive. Training consisted of slick passing and finishing drills along with a fierce and competitive small-sided game. You were accountable for your mistakes no matter your age, no exceptions were given whatsoever, if you were their to train with the first team, then you trained to the best of your ability or else you’d know about it. It was a method that allowed young boys to mature into men through the rigours of a ‘footballing apprenticeship’.
It was an experience I enjoyed frequently over my time at Hamilton. It is a club whose budget is miniscule compared to their Premier League competitors. But they offer something that those clubs didn't and that was to play first team football at the drop of a hat.
During my short stint, I witnessed seven of my youth teammates, who were all at the age of 18 or under, make their full first team debuts at a time when Accies were competitive in the Scottish Championship. The most notable of my peers was Gary Fraser who went onto make 19 appearances for the club during 2011/12 season and secured a move to Championship giants, Bolton Wanderers over the summer.
Hamilton’s culture gave youth players the confidence necessary to compete at the senior level as coaches, staff and board members all encouraged us to continue striving for a consistent role in the first team. The person who was idolized around the club was James McCarthy. After making a name for himself with Wigan, Everton purchased the 22-year old for £13 million on transfer deadline day this past summer, to fill the large void left by Marouane Fellaini.
So far this season, McCarthy has appeared eight times in the Premier League for the Toffees, starting six of those matches and has settled in nicely in the centre of midfield along with fellow newcomer Gareth Barry.
McCarthy is still young and will no doubt continue his development by playing for a side, which is currently competing for a Champions League spot. The Republic of Ireland international has all the traits to succeed at the top level. With slick and accomplished passing, an ability to win the ball through strong but fair tackling and a box to box engine, McCarthy’s potential is unlimited.
If he continues to build on his valuable traits, as his confidence grows, you will see this young midfielder become more and more influential in games. Not only creating, but also scoring regularly from midfield.
And no doubt he’ll be the first to say it was all due to what was learned at Hamilton.