Monday 18 February 2019

Scots green with envy as McCarthy prepares to don Irish jersey

Stephen Finn

JAMES McCARTHY, the hottest teenage talent in British football, will make his debut for Ireland tonight.

All eyes will be on the 16-year-old Hamilton Academical midfielder when he lines out against Italy in an U-17 international at Whitehall (kick-off 7.0). Glasgow-born McCarthy has already played seven times for the Accies first team and has been invited to Liverpool, Celtic and Reading on trial - Liverpool have already approached the Scottish Division One outfit with a ?1,140,000 bid for the young gun.

Chelsea chief scout Frank Arnesen watched the teen sensation in action last Saturday and the Premiership champions are ready to match the offer from Anfield - as are Reading, while Sheffield United have also entered the chase.

McCarthy's advisor, George Gray, is determined to have the player's club future mapped out by the end of this week.

"We're expecting Chelsea to make a firm offer within 48 hours and Liverpool want something done by Wednesday so we've plenty to think about," said Gray. "It's hard to say which will be the right club for him. Hamilton obviously have their own opinion but James will ultimately decide what he wants to do.

"Rafa Benitez was very impressed by him. He told me that he regarded James' technique as better than Steven Gerrard's was at the same age. He made a major impression in a training game by unleashing a 25-yard rocket that flew past Jerzy Dudek. Wherever he goes, I can see James playing first team football very quickly."

Celtic, the club McCarthy supports, are clearly regretting letting him go two years ago after he had trained with them for several months, but Gordon Strachan hasn't given up hope of luring him back to Parkhead. When he returned to the Glasgow giants on trial last week, he was no longer mixing with fresh-faced teens but with Gordon Strachan's stars.

Dubliner Darren O'Dea and Aiden McGeady - another Glasgow native to declare for Ireland in recent years - made sure they had a word in McCarthy's ear.

McCarthy is eligible for Ireland through his Gweedore-born grandfather Paddy Coyle, who recently passed away.

"Grandad was a big influence on me when I was small and always said he wanted to see me play for Ireland so I was delighted to get the chance to do so," explained the teenager.

"It'll be a great moment for me to wear the Irish shirt for the first time. My parents are coming over and lots more of my relatives will be there as well."

McCarthy's decision to declare for Ireland caused consternation in his home country, although under FIFA rules he can do a U-turn until he his capped at U-21 level. Gray has no sympathy for the Scots, claiming: "I told them he was the best talent Scottish football has produced since Kenny Dalglish but they never showed any interest in him."

Irish youths team manager McCaffrey expects the Scots to fight tooth and nail to persuade the youngster to change his mind.

"If I was in their shoes, I'd be pestering him too so I can't believe they'll just let it go," said McCaffrey. "James has great potential. He just has fantastic ability. He could be a real player for us. He is strong and will get stronger. He's got pace and a great range of passes. He doesn't do tricks but he can really go from box to box.

"There is a lot of pressure on him now and he's had huge publicity because everybody wants to find out about him, but he is being well looked after and his parents are lovely people.

"I think he's well grounded. Darren O'Dea told me that, when he met him, the lad was talking away to him like he knew him all his life." Terry Dixon was the last youngster to declare for Ireland in similar circumstances - he is also eligible to play for England.

Within a year of making his U-16 debut he was drafted into Ireland's senior squad and, although an horrific knee injury has hampered Dixon's progress at Tottenham, McCaffrey is hopeful the London-born striker will return to action by the end of the season.

"The surgeons have wrapped the ligament around the knee and he is making good recovery but the whole episode shows how fragile football can be," added McCaffrey.

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