So, Farewell Alex McCarthy. You’re now, not unexpectedly, leaving Reading FC for new and higher-level pastures. Players come and go from football clubs all the time, but your departure, and the circumstances behind them make me particularly sad.
I’ll explain why, and at the same time I’ll give some context to this piece. It’s no secret that I’m a great fan of McCarthy, and I’m on record as saying I believe he has more potential to get to the very top of the game than any other player to ever come out of Reading FC. At the same time, I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’ve never much warmed to Adam Federici, for a variety of reasons. Likes and dislikes of individual players - irrational or otherwise - are part of the game and fans’ discussions about it, so whilst some might see this piece as biased, I have no hesitation in stating my opinions.
I have particular scorn for those who rate Federici ahead of McCarthy because "he has better distribution" – a mantra that seems to be trotted out whenever the subject of ‘keepers is raised. This might be true – although if time permitted I’d argue that a keeper can only distribute to players who are making themselves available and discuss manager’s orders last season.
But in any case, distribution is only a small and relatively unimportant part of a ‘keeper’s role and is something that can be worked on and improved. Distribution doesn’t actually cost goals conceded, so to me it ought to be a simple, straightforward decision – pick the best goalkeeper you have, every single time! Choosing one goalkeeper over another on the basis of "better distribution" is like selecting a Mini over a Ferrari because it has a better steering-wheel.
There has been lots of debate over which of the two is the better goalkeeper, and I will happily concede that there’s not much to choose between the two of them right now. They are currently of a very similar standard, although I always feel so much happier when McCarthy is between the posts. He just looks the part completely, in full command of his area and, I always feel, much less likely to commit a calamitous error. Although it’s now past history now, never forget there was a period when cynics dubbed the Australian "Adam Liability."
And that leads us onto the absolutely key point, and the one which makes me saddest about this departure. I’ll agree that there’s not much between the two of them this season, and that Nigel Adkins has had a tough decision picking a number one. But the point that no-one ever seems to mention is that McCarthy is four years and ten months younger than Federici. Five years ago this week, when Federici was the age McCarthy is now, he was right in the middle of his "Adam Liability" phase, letting a softer than soft goal in at home to Sheffield United.
He, of course, has improved massively since he was 24, to the high standard he plays at today. But if McCarthy is now, at 24, as good now as Federici is at 29, just think how good he’ll be in five years’ time! I honestly can’t see Federici getting much better at his age, but the potential McCarthy has for improvement is just phenomenal – and so exciting.
So viewed on a long-term basis, not keeping McCarthy is clearly a questionable decision. But this is football, where long-term planning is as rare as rocking horse droppings, and short-term expediency makes this all inevitable. Being first-choice goalkeeper is like being an immortal in "Highlander" - "There can be only one" – and Reading’s glut of top-class keepers Reading means that unless either is happy to sit on the bench week after week, then one must move on.
In an ideal world – or at least in my ideal world – it would be Federici moving on and McCarthy staying and blossoming here, but the potential the younger player has makes him the much more valuable and saleable asset. Coupled with the club’s perilous financial situation this summer it’s a no-brainer for them to cash in on McCarthy now, and if it’s decided that he is second-choice ‘keeper, it’s a no-brainer for McCarthy too. For the sake of his career, he must move on now and grab his opportunity elsewhere.
I just wish that the two players were the same age, so a definitive judgement of who is better could be made, or that another club had moved for Federici when he (or his agent, depending on who you ask) made his infamous "come and get me plea" to Premier League clubs after the Swansea play-off defeat in 2011. But we’ve now come to a point where a decision has to be made on which of the two to sell, and the short-term financial situation means we have to sell the most saleable, even though in the long-term they may turn out to be the better player. In fact, if we’re in a situation where only one is saleable, that makes the decision even clearer.
But that’s always the situation for a club like Reading – and even more so after the ownership shenanigans of the past couple of years. We can’t afford to have a valuable asset sitting on the bench each week, so we have to say goodbye to McCarthy.
Personally, I wish him all the best, and I’m sure his career will go from strength to strength once he arrives at his new club and forces himself into the first team. It’ll be great to see him fulfil his potential, and I can see him playing regularly at the very highest level. Of course, there’ll always be a pang of regret that he won’t be a Reading player then … and it’ll hurt so much more if he achieves all of this playing in a team wearing the wrong blue and white hoops!