Sport Soccer

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Everton a fitting stage for McCarthy talents

Ever since he made a professional debut at the tender age of 15, it has seemed that James McCarthy's career has been mapped out with hushed anticipation as something that could match the very best Ireland could offer.

Last night's confirmation of a £13m deal taking him from Wigan to Everton that he will, indeed, return to the Premier League after the briefest of exiles marks him out as one of the most significant Republic of Ireland players in the sport.

No longer must he be classed a player of potential – Everton are a club with designs on the Champions League and his influence will need to be more than peripheral. It must be pivotal.

And, so too for Ireland, within whose squad this week he takes his place as one of the three most valuable players in its history as they plot a rocky road to Rio.

The transfer valuation, to bow to cliche, is not of his making. No matter; others will demand something different of him and he will now be under pressure to deliver.

This is the world in which he now inhabits – even if his eventual move last night arrived in hardly the most convincing of circumstances.

Albeit curated for much of its time in a different country, and propagated by singsong accents not of this isle, McCarthy has maintained a steady graph of improvement.

Yet the fact that the graph is still rising has itself often been an impediment to career progression.

It is not just his international manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, a man still not entirely trusting in his talents and temperament, who remain to be fully convinced that McCarthy is, as currently constituted, the finished article as a footballer.

DRAMA

A host of managers within the higher echelons of the club game, none of whom had been willing to take a punt on him, indicate that, even at a fully developed 22, McCarthy's talents may not have been as widely accepted as everyone may assume.

Yesterday's shenanigans may have provided gripping drama – well, gripping drama to those whose lives are compellingly undramatic – but is one parses the details of the circus, it can easily be revealed that the desire to acquire McCarthy was mostly of the passive variety.

And when eventually it did happen, it came at the behest of his former manager.

Whether it was Newcastle United or Everton – the latter's interest discriminated clearly by the involvement managed, critically, by McCarthy's erstwhile boss at Wigan – the player's movement was predicated firstly upon the stirrings of others.

Hence, were Everton to yield Marouane Fellaini or Newcastle to cede Yohann Cabaye, it seemed, only then would the initial expressions of interest in McCarthy be triggered into a more tangible offer.

Earlier this year, a manager who would be more than a little intimate with the qualities associated with McCarthy outlined the assets that have seen the Glasgow-born midfielder adopt a swagger on the Premier League stage.

"He is a really tenacious kind of player but he is also very skilful and he has incredible perception in terms of where everybody else is on the field," said the manager. "To buy him, you would need at least £10m."

The manager's name? Roberto Martinez, then Wigan manager and McCarthy's boss, now Everton manager and the player's putative pursuer.

Ironically the piqued protectionist speech from Martinez has arguably inflated McCarthy's figure, with the Spaniard's former boss Dave Whelan reiterating in Ireland last weekend that he is unwilling to easily part with one of his few prized post-relegation assets.

Martinez had the gall to acquiesce in Everton's initial offer of £7m for the player last month; Wigan's stance was that McCarthy was now worth double that.

"Everton are not matching what we are looking for," said Whelan. "We asked for a certain price from Everton for James McCarthy, and they have not come near it. We have to be fair with the player, and our football club. They said they were going to pay us over four years."

Of course, McCarthy, quite apart from the international tug of love that so tarnished his relationship with so many deranged football fans on these islands, has become used to flattering interest from outsiders.

Barcelona apparently coveted him as a teenager; later, too, we were giddily informed via bush telegraph, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

McCarthy had rejected a transfer to Liverpool in 2007 and was also believed to have been linked with Chelsea.

When the time finally came for the teenage prodigy to leave Hamilton, the Scottish side who first nurtured him, a plethora of candidates queued up for his sought-after signature.

None of them required an interpreter to seal the deal when it finally happened in the summer of 2009.

While it was Wigan Athletic and Wolves who tussled until the final day, Spurs made a late expression of interest, Celtic were forced to admit that they were priced out of a race; Burnley and Portsmouth also had bids rejected.

Since then, McCarthy's improvement as a player has risen exponentially with shadowy expressions of interest from the Premier League elite.

Much of the speculation, one can only assume, emanates from over-eager agents seeking to stir up, and inflate, interest in the player. Not that his talents needed much advertising in the first place, one would have thought.

Still, the ruse has certainly worked and, while it is difficult to keep a straight face while pondering transfer values – even chairman Whelan struggles to do so – a fee of anywhere between £12m and £15m seems to be grossly exaggerated.

The price itself is linked to the fateful fall-out of Wigan's relegation from the Premier League; as is Whelan's insistence on an up-front payment, rather than the Hire Purchase scheme many leading clubs now use to skirt financial calamity.

Hence, the confirmation that the transfer window is as much about perception than anything else and often something that can utterly compromise so unwittingly player's future.

Which is where Trapattoni was coming from yesterday when he hinted at the importance of his nascent midfield enforcer securing the best possible move.

"Obviously, the more important games he plays, the more his personality will increase," said the Italian, who was himself so unconvinced in his early dealings with McCarthy, who he only finally deigned to meet when persuaded strongly by his FAI bosses. "I said last month I was happy because I have seen James McCarthy play with good personality on the pitch. Against Germany, against Georgia, he did very well and he has increased.

"He is at Wigan now, but if he changes, I am sure it will be good for him to go to a more important team. With that, he can think, 'I am an important player' – that is important.

"I spoke with James because at this moment, he has the opportunity to change teams.

"I said, 'Okay, you stay with your club now and decide your position' because he could be happy.

"A new possibility will be for him very, very important. One day more for this decision is important for him and also for us because he will come back happy after this situation."

At the 11th hour, precisely why the transfer window was created, McCarthy's happiness was consummated.

A new possibility, a new stage befitting his burgeoning talents and a new challenge for a player who, so far in his developing career, has matched every test that has been presented to him.

Irish Independent

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