Another club versus country row brewing between Everton and Ireland over James McCarthy
Martin O’Neill, the Republic of Ireland manager, may be on the verge of another row with Everton over James McCarthy after it emerged the midfielder is pushing to play against Wales only days after he reported for international duty with an injury.
McCarthy, who last played for Everton as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur on March 5, and has completed 90 minutes for his club merely twice this season, travelled to Ireland with yet another hamstring injury and was expected to miss Friday’s crucial World Cup qualifier.
But the 26-year-old, who is a transfer target for Newcastle United if they are promoted to the Premier League in May, took part in training in Dublin on Wednesday and sources within the Ireland camp have indicated McCarthy wants to be involved in the game.
That will not please Everton, who have had a series of public disputes with O’Neill regarding the selection of McCarthy for international games when he has missed so many fixtures for his club because of injury.
O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane were highly critical of former Everton manager Roberto Martínez for trying to put pressure on McCarthy to miss international games. They also bluntly dismissed an attack from Ronald Koeman earlier this season.
Koeman was annoyed that McCarthy had been asked to play two games for Ireland against Georgia and Moldova back in October, when he had barely figured for Everton, claiming the former Wigan player had been “massively overloaded” following a groin operation.
He also attacked the decision to call McCarthy into the squad for the qualifier against Austria the following month, even though he did not play in Vienna.
That prompted O’Neill to accuse Koeman of “bleating on” about the issue, as he denied putting the player’s welfare at risk, pointing out that it had always been McCarthy who made the decision whether he was fit enough to play.
Privately, O’Neill is furious with Koeman and believes the former Southampton manager is prepared to be so scathing only because he does not believe the Ireland team are important enough for McCarthy to put his body on the line.
McCarthy has made only 13 appearances for Everton this season, mainly because of a series of niggling injuries, but has never shirked international duty and is once again keen to be involved against Wales.
Ireland could certainly do with him in the centre of midfield against Wales and McCarthy, who has asked O’Neill to be given the chance to prove his fitness before he names his team on Friday, was able to take part in most of the training session on Wednesday morning.
A victory for Ireland would put them seven points clear of Chris Coleman’s side at the top of Group D with five games remaining.
“I’m sure Wales feel that it is a game they need to get something from,” said the Burnley defender Stephen Ward. “But from our point of view, there is pressure because we know if we can win it, it is going to be a massive step towards qualifying.
“We know, if we don’t take maximum points, the group is right back open and Wales will be hot on our heels again.”
“I think pressure comes in both ways, they will look at it from one end and we will have a pressure that we have to win the game to give us that gap and take us more forward.”