Big-money transfer puts pressure on McCarthy to start running the show
Life will never be the same for James McCarthy again. When a club pays £13m for your services, the price tag follows you around. Everything he does now will be judged in that context.
He should be buzzing this week, of course. Brimming with confidence and, hopefully, he can bring that into tonight's game. But he's going to have a lot more eyes on him now, a whole new pressure to deal with.
I've got to be honest, when I heard the size of the transfer fee I was surprised. It's a huge sum, but I suppose after the sale of Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United, Wigan were in a strong position. They could name their price.
Make no mistake about it, the price matters. If he had moved on for £4m or £5m, well, I'm not being disrespectful, but it would probably be viewed as a pleasant surprise if he turned out to be a big player for Everton. But £13m? That's a different ball game. For that money, you've got to be bossing Premier League matches, running the show, dictating the pace. Performing every week in the stadium, and every day when he reports for work.
The first challenge, the biggest challenge, is getting his new colleagues on side. Trust me, in his first week at Everton, they'll be the ones to impress. I've been in squads where players come in for big money. Within a week or two, the established group will be passing judgment when he's not listening. It'll either be: "He looks the business; he's different class," or "what the hell have we signed? He's terrible."
When I left Millwall for Blackburn, albeit for much smaller money – around £2.5m – I felt the nerves.
Unlike James, it was my first taste of the top flight, he's already had a couple of seasons there. But I still found it intimidating coming into a dressing-room full of recognised names, European Cup winners like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, senior pros like Garry Flitcroft, Craig Short and Andy Todd.
The training ground was a tough environment. Craig Bellamy came along later and he's the one I remember, always in your face, demanding higher standards. If you didn't match them, you knew about it and you had to be able to look after yourself.
James has to pass that test, which brings us nicely into Ireland. Giovanni Trapattoni thinks he is too shy and is worried he lacks the necessary toughness. I haven't heard too much about James – I can't remember him giving many interviews – yet with his new standing he'll have to find his voice and become a strong character to cope with what's coming down the tracks. He's at a major club in a football-mad city now and that can be fantastic for Ireland, because, if he responds in the right way, it can help him grow into that dominating figure we've been crying out for.
I don't think we've seen the best of him in an Ireland shirt. Mick McCarthy always told me it would take 10 caps to really feel settled because that was his own experience and I think James is following that trend, he's gradually become more comfortable.
He's impressed me over the last few games, taking more control and coming out of his shell – although I feel that, in Trapattoni's system, he is always going to be a little inhibited.
Still, he can make a statement tonight.
I'm feeling dangerously confident – that's my eternal optimism. Sweden are having problems defensively and, from what I'm hearing, the coach doesn't appear too sure of his best back four.
By contrast, I think that Trap has found his, with Richard Dunne returning next to John O'Shea. I think John's been carrying a lot of responsibility in games over the past year and it's a real plus for him to have Dunny back – with the presence that he brings, it's a no-brainer to stick him back in there and that gives the team a solid base. They may be senior players, but I've found that once you pass 30, then defending becomes easier, because you've got the know-how to pick your battles and cut out what I call the 'stupid running.'
Even if you don't have the legs of a twentysomething, positional awareness can more than make up for that.
The onus will be on Seamus Coleman to bomb forward, which is his best quality and I think, for the sake of balance, we won't see Marc Wilson be as adventurous. That will give Seamus a bit more licence to attack.
The disappointment for me is that Robbie Brady didn't get the nod on the left wing. James McClean is too predictable in my view, he doesn't offer variety. Brady is brimming with confidence, comfortable on the ball and capable of coming in from the line as well as delivering crosses.
I think the manager has made a mistake there and I hope that Brady is part of the Plan 'B' if we run into difficulty – although, given the significance of this fixture, let's hope that it doesn't come to that.
Let's be honest, anything less than three points going into away games with Austria and Germany would make things very difficult.
There's no margin for error now. James will soon relate to that.