Southampton’s Alex Mccarthy: ‘My Dad Had to Learn How to Walk Again’
As Alex McCarthy acknowledges, it has been a rather strange season for Southampton, a seesaw of emotions from that nightmarish pummelling by Leicester at St Mary’s to an extraordinary run of eight wins in their past 11 league matches.
McCarthy made his first league start of the season following that 9-0 demolition but one constant has been the form of Danny Ings, whose goals have fuelled an astonishing turnaround.
“I tell him before every game: ‘Make sure you score because you’re in my fantasy team, and he always does,’” McCarthy says, smiling. “He has been captain a couple of times and he is getting me loads of points, so I’m happy with that.”
Ings has won Southampton a fair share of points in reality, too. The striker scored the winner when they exacted revenge on Leicester and the only goal of this month’s game against Tottenham, whom they host in the FA Cup on Saturday. On Tuesday Ings was rested against McCarthy’s previous club Crystal Palace but the goalkeeper kept a clean sheet to help hoist Southampton to within touching distance of Europa League qualification places.
“I want to finish in the top half of the table, in the top seven, this season,” McCarthy says. “If I said that a couple of months ago people would be thinking: ‘Bloody hell, this guy is crazy.’ But the confidence in the team is sky high and we’re going into every game thinking we’re going to win it. Hopefully that continues.”
As for Ings, McCarthy believes the striker will break the 20-goal barrier providing he stays fit. Ings’s form has inevitably caught the attention of Gareth Southgate, with the England manager minded to call up the forward in March but he is not the only Southampton player determined not to go down as a one-cap wonder. McCarthy, who made his international debut against USA in November 2018, is equally hungry to avoid remaining part of that select club of players, who also include the Southampton winger Nathan Redmond.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper Tom Heaton is set to miss Euro 2020 after sustaining a serious knee injury and his misfortune has created an opportunity for others, notably McCarthy, whose first England call-up came under the now Palace manager Roy Hodgson in 2013, though he did not get on the field.
“I do want to get more than the one cap I’ve got. I remember getting that cap and thinking: ‘Yeah, I want another one of these now.’ With the Euros coming round in the summer, it would be nice to be involved with that.
“I speak to the [England] goalie coach [Martyn Margetson]. Every now and then he drops me a message, which is nice. He asks how I’m getting on and he’s watching the games, so I would like to think I am on their radar but my priority is club football. If you are not playing, you are not going to get called up. But if I’m playing well for my club, it gives me that chance to go away with them.”
Inside Southampton’s Staplewood training base the mood is serene. McCarthy cuts a relaxed figure and, down the other end of the room, Alfie, the resident black cat, is sleeping. McCarthy did not begin the season as Ralph Hasenhüttl’s first-choice goalkeeper but it is not in his nature to fret. The 30-year-old is a laid-back character, his temperament and sense of perspective the legacy of when his father, Martin, an engineer, survived a serious accident in Luxembourg when Alex was seven.
“It was a proper eye-opener. He used to cycle to and from work to keep fit and got knocked over by a drunk driver who just left him on the side of the road. He nearly died of hypothermia, broke his back and he is lucky to be here now.
“A couple of days after the accident he called the home phone and I answered and didn’t recognise his voice. He had to learn how to walk again and everything. When he came back [to England] he took me to training and really ended up pushing me on, so he had a big influence on my career.”
Off the field, McCarthy is engrossed with other sports. He enjoys playing golf, follows Formula One and, sometimes after away games, watches darts on the team bus with Jack Stephens. McCarthy grew up in Surrey, for whom he played county cricket as a wicketkeeper at youth level, before joining Reading’s academy at 16.
As a young goalkeeper he idolised Petr Cech, these days a technical adviser at Chelsea and a part-time goaltender for an ice hockey team in Guildford. “That’s my hometown,” McCarthy says. “I need to get down there.”
When it comes to Southampton’s turnaround, he feels Hasenhüttl deserves credit for keeping morale high at one of the club’s lowest moments. “On the training ground, he likes to take all the sessions and have a big input. At the other clubs I’ve been at the managers will do bits and bobs but not as much as this guy.
“He is very detailed and knows exactly what he wants to get out of the players. The way he wants to play – high pressing – it took a little bit of getting used to but everyone knows what he wants now and he knows us as individuals, so we are all on the right path.”
The Guardian Sport