“It’s the self doubt. Especially at Aston Villa when you walk into the changing room you are not wanted, you don’t feel a part of it, you don’t feel good enough to be there.”
Ross McCormack’s life is far removed from the one he knew in August, 2016. Back then the Scotland international was signed from Fulham for £12m on a four-year deal by Aston Villa, looking to build on his deserved reputation as a prolific striker during his time at Fulham, Leeds United and Cardiff City.
Less than six months later his career at Villa Park was effectively over. After falling out of favour with manager Steve Bruce, McCormack has spent most of the intervening time exiled on the other side of the world.
A row over his electronic gate with Bruce, playing with Usain Bolt and being robbed of the confidence that once coursed through the veins of the predatory forward have defined the last two years for the 32-year-old.
Now on loan at Motherwell, the club he left for Cardiff City 10 years ago, McCormack opens up to BBC Scotland on the period that made him “lose his mojo”, doing a bleep test with the world’s fastest man, and why he sees his future away from English football.
Electric gates & training alone
As a life lesson it’s probably turned into a positive. It’s just a shame on the football side it’s been such a negative.
Two years ago the Scot had featured heavily for an Aston Villa side adjusting to life in the Championship. Twenty two games had come and gone, three goals scored along the way.
However, as one gate refused to open, a door shut on McCormack.
The striker was left out of a 2-2 draw with Preston in January 2017, after which Bruce publicly criticised the player’s fitness and revealed he had failed to turn up to training because the electronic gates outside of his house wouldn’t open.
“The latest excuse was that his gates had stuck but he couldn’t jump over a fence that was four feet six inches high,” Bruce said at the time.
“Not in 20 years in management have I ever gone down this route but I feel I have to make a stance because I will not put up with it on my watch.”
McCormack would not play for the remainder of that season, with only two EFL Cup matches the following campaign coming for the forward at Villa Park.
“At the time I don’t think it was personal,” McCormack told BBC Scotland. “I just think he was trying to deflect that they’d drawn 2-2 at home to Preston when they were leading 2-0. Which is fair enough, but it’s just everything since then has made me change my mind a little bit.
“It’s been a bit of a shambles to be honest but that’s football. I’ve seen it happen to a number of players who just get frozen out and don’t get a look in. They are training on their own in the morning, they get no days off.
“Basically what happens, the club just want them out, they want them off the wage bill and that’s essentially what happened.
“Yeah [I trained on my own]. It’s not ideal, but it’s one of those things I think I’m now stronger for it.”
Frosty changing rooms, getting personal & Netflix
When someone is frozen out there’s always a little hesitancy for other players to open up to you like they would do if you were playing in the first team. You did feel a little bit alone.
“It was just more a personal thing,” said the former Rangers forward, who went out on loan to Nottingham Forest two weeks after Bruce’s comments.
“Most days you wanted to be the last one in and the first one out. I’ve always been a bubbly guy who wanted to have mix and have banter but work when the time was right – but over the last six month to a year that’s slowly disappeared.”
After returning from Forest in the summer of 2017, McCormack almost sealed a move to Sunderland in the dying seconds of transfer deadline day.
The potential move was captured on Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I die.
“I was literally at the training ground to sign and for money reasons – I think Aston Villa maybe wanted more than what Sunderland could pay – that was it and I went home.”
Bolt from Down Under
It’s mad because he’s the fastest guy on the planet but if you watch him doing his 100m sprints it takes him a little while to get into stride.
On the back of a successful spell with A League side Melbourne during the 2017/18 season, McCormack returned to Australia to sign for Central Coast Mariners.
However, he was upstaged by the arrival of the phenomenon that is Usain Bolt, who was attempting to carve out a career as a footballer after retiring from the track.
“I set up his first goal,” he joked.
“It was just mad. You never expect it. What I said all along was that he was such a nice, humble guy. He got in with the stories, the banter, so we couldn’t really ask for any more.
“When he got into it, he opened up a couple of times and it was like a blur.”
Alas, Bolt’s spell at Mariners last for just three months as a deal could not be reached.
“It was good if he was in your team, you just hit the space,” added McCormack.
“He’s not a footballer. Still not a footballer, but he tried. He had decent attributes, maybe the coaching staff didn’t think enough to offer him the contract he wanted.”
Good eggs, new beginnings & hunting for mojos
The confidence is the biggest part of it. This is why the next five months is a personal journey for me as well as trying to help the team. It’s me trying to regain that confidence, that sharpness, knowing you are going to affect games. That’s gone.
McCormack has been to the other side of the world to rediscover his form but it is in the familiar surroundings of Fir Park that the man with 13 caps believes is the right place for him on and off the pitch.
With 18 months to go on his contract, the 32-year-old has already come to terms with the fact he is unlikely to ever pull on a claret and blue shirt again.
“I’m not sure about English football now to be honest,” he said.
“Obviously people think you are this or that but as I’ve said time and again there’s not one person at any club I’ve been at who will say I’m a bad egg. It’s only been Aston Villa, so that speaks volumes.
“I can obviously never fully shut the door on Aston Villa but I think it’s blatantly obvious from everyone looking at it that my time there is done.”
It is with the Fir Park backdrop the forgotten Villa forward believes he can rediscover his form, and prove to himself the fire has not gone out.
“To myself, yeah. Not to anyone else,” he said.
“If you look at the record, things that I’ve done on a personal level I don’t think I’ve got anything to prove to anyone.
“It won’t be like before as it’s a different management team with a new set of lads, but overall in terms of coming back to where my family live and my mates live, where the manager wanted me to come so much, I think it gives me the best chance to get my mojo back.”