Sunday 11 December 2016

Steven Reid: James McCarthy must now start to realise his full potential before it is too late

Published 20/06/2016 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

As a 21-year old playing in the World Cup, I will always remember thinking to myself, 'This is great. Playing at a major tournament will happen every couple of years'. How wrong I was.

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It's the kind of thing that every kid dreams of but suddenly, when it becomes a reality, you have to be ready to seize your opportunity.

It wasn't until my last three or four internationals that I really stopped and thought to myself that I belong at this level.

I felt like I had established myself and was finally delivering the kind of performances that everyone was expecting of me when I was breaking through with the U-21s and into the senior team.

It's tough to think back on that now but, in truth, it is the reality that a lot of players face.

International football is a little bit slower; it's more possession-based. Like Ireland found out on Saturday, you can easily have spells for two or three minutes without the ball.

It's all about remaining patient and waiting for your chance. Some people can do it at club level and not for their country and vice versa.

It took me a while to find my feet at international so when I look at what James McCarthy is going through at the moment, I can emphasise with him.

I will always openly admit that it was a frustrating time for me and I think James is going through something similar. I just hope that it doesn't take him as long to realise his potential.

James has struggled recently and there's no denying that. His mistake for Axel Witsel's goal really isn't good enough at this level. As a central midfielder, one of the first things you're taught is to stay with your runner.

I've played in that position often enough to know that and he will know it himself but that doesn't excuse it.

I've said it before but it's getting to that stage now for James where he really needs to start grabbing games by the scruff of the neck.

He's been a star performer for Everton in the Premier League for a few seasons. Okay, he had a quiet season this year but there have been several different stages where he has been linked with big moves to Arsenal and Man United but unfortunately he's not converting those kind of club performances on the international stage.

This is a really crucial time in his international career, that's for sure. Martin has showed great faith in him and he's the kind of player that you'd often look to build your team around but when I look at the kind of potential that Jeff Hendrick is showing, particularly against Sweden, it's the kind of performance that we have been waiting for from James McCarthy for far too long.

This is not a player who is playing in the Championship or League One. This is an established Premier League midfielder.

Our major problem in terms of taking him out of the team is that we're not blessed with an abundance of top Premier League standard midfielders.

It's all well and good asking, 'How long do we give James?' but where are the alternatives? That same logic applies in a lot of positions. We don't have the players putting pressure on these guys for their places.

He is still a quality performer but at some point, it is going to have to click with him so that he does feel at home in the middle of midfield, representing Ireland.

It was hugely frustrating for me to have had to retire just at time when I felt I was having an influence.

Thankfully, James has got years and years more football left in him and I'm sure he won't go down the same route as I did but at the same time, these players have to realise that these opportunities don't come around all that often.

Belgium have far better individuals and, more importantly, they gelled as a team. All week there had been talk of unrest in the camp but they came out with a point to prove and we felt the full brunt of that. Everything clicked for them and based on that performance, to me, they look like strong outsiders to now go on and do very well in this tournament.

'Longy' had such a difficult task up against a world-class backline with the likes of Vertonghen, Vermaelen and Alderweireld. I was very impressed with the right-back Meunier as well.

Shane did really well in the first half. He could easily have won a penalty in the lead-up to Belgium's first goal. He definitely got a rough ride, not only off the defenders but from the referee as well.

But again, that's where we really missed Jon Walters. When you've got him up top as well, it makes it a little bit easier for our players to find a way out of defence.

Our quality in possession was really, really poor. We barely strung five passes together and we were duly punished.

When you don't have the ball, you're expending so much energy trying to get it back but the times you do manage to win it, you cannot give it away as cheaply as we did on Saturday.

When you're playing a team like Belgium, those sort of things and the ball not sticking in the final third, makes the task even tougher.

We were second best in every department and you couldn't argue with being beaten by a side who, in truth, were much better. But the defeat has to be put out of the players' minds now. It's the same kind of situation when you play for your club on a Saturday and then midweek. There is no time to dwell on it.

We know the situation we're in. We have to go and beat Italy on Wednesday. It's pure and simple.

There may be a couple of changes but regardless of who is selected, everyone has to stand up and be a leader because, as I found out, playing for Ireland at a major tournament is a rare and special privilege.

Irish Independent

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