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Is James McCarthy good enough to make an impact at Manchester City?

The Ireland international is being linked with a move to Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

McCarthy has earned praise for his performances at Everton.
McCarthy has earned praise for his performances at Everton.

JAMES MCCARTHY IS undoubtedly a player who divides opinion.

Since making a big-money move to Everton from Wigan, McCarthy has garnered praise in some quarters for his performances.

The Ireland international was regarded as playing a key role in Everton’s impressive fifth-place Premier League finish during Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge, as the club amassed a considerable 72 points, finishing ahead of sides of the calibre of Manchester United and Tottenham in the process.

Indeed, McCarthy was so influential in his first season that, according to Martinez, the player’s transfer value had doubled from the original £13 million fee that the Toffees spent bringing the player to the club.

Last season, it was also hardly a coincidence that Everton’s worst form came at the time McCarthy was out with a long-term injury. Sky pundit Jamie Carragher was so impressed by the Scottish-born player that he went so far as to highlight McCarthy as the Everton player Liverpool should covet most.

Nevertheless, not everyone speaks of McCarthy in glowing terms. For Ireland, he has produced some disappointing performances, with Eamon Dunphy going so far as to brand him “a terrible flop”.

However, if he is not even highly thought of in some circles, why are City reportedly keen on signing him, and why is Roberto Martinez clearly eager to keep him? The Everton manager responded to these rumours, linking McCarthy with City, by insisting the player is not for sale.

“There are two reasons why James McCarthy is not for sale,” he said. “The first is that Everton are a club that has balanced its books, it is not a club that needs to sell anybody. The second is that James McCarthy has been a strong performer for me for a number of seasons. I know exactly how he performs, he is a central part of my plans so the answer would be no.”

Yet managers will almost always give a variation of Martinez’s speech in an attempt to prevent a key player leaving, however if McCarthy is unhappy and wants to depart — as recent reports have hinted – then there is often little a coach can do to stop a move from happening.

In a situation not totally dissimilar to the recent Raheem Sterling saga, McCarthy wants a better contract, with the Toffees reluctant to offer him one. Along with Tottenham, City are believed to be interested in the player as a result of this development, with the club having given up on previous targets Paul Pogba and Fabian Delph.

And should McCarthy ultimately move to City, a key question is: would he be good enough to regularly feature in Pellegrini’s side.

In the past, players who have moved to City, such as Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell, have found it extremely difficult to break into the first team. With competition for places invariably intense at Eastlands, by making the switch, McCarthy would risk giving up regular football at Everton in favour of consistent spells on the bench.

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Nevertheless, McCarthy’s talent is not the only reason for City’s interest. The fact that the Irish international is classified as a homegrown player would also be a key factor in any deal.

A Premier League club needs at least three homegrown players in their squad and can have a maximum of 17 overseas players. The maximum tally for a squad is 25 (excluding players under the age of 21), but eight of these must be homegrown.

City currently have just three homegrown players (Joe Hart, Gael Clichy and Richard Wright — Sterling counts as an U21 player instead), hence why they would regard McCarthy as a valuable addition in many ways.

And while Delph partially rejected City because he seemingly feared being given a peripheral role in the side, would McCarthy feel the same way?

One of the chief criticisms aimed at the 24-year-old, for Ireland at least, is that he doesn’t dictate play and neglects to demand the ball on a regular basis. Yet at City, such characteristics would be less of an issue than they clearly are for his country. At Eastlands, players such as Samir Nasri and David Silva would usually be relied upon to create chances. McCarthy, by contrast, would likely slot into one of the holding midfield roles, currently occupied primarily by Fernando and Fernandinho.

So would the starlet be good enough to start at the expense of one or both of the aforementioned Brazilian duo? The former Wigan man may well fancy his chances if the move does go through, while he presumably could earn the kind of money he’s currently looking for at Goodison Park, so it’s easy to see why he might be tempted to push for a transfer.

Moreover, while it’s always a risk for a young player to move to a big club, at 24, McCarthy is at a stage where he needs to be playing at the highest level to fulfill his potential. He clearly has considerable ability — it’s no accident that he made his debut with Hamilton at the age of 15.

The defensive aspects of McCarthy’s game, such as positional intelligence, reading of the play, tackling, stamina and agility are impeccable. Granted, like most young players, there is undoubtedly room for improvement in the Ireland midfielder’s play, but given the years of Premier League experience he has accumulated already, it’s easy to see why a top-tier club like City would be interested in acquiring his services.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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