Men, women and children of Wigan, barricade the roads, cut the telephone wires and create a modern day iron curtain around the DW, the big clubs are sniffing. The player in question is James McCarthy, potential superstar and midfield maestro of Roberto Martinez’s blue and white barmy army.
With Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal after the talented box-to-box midfielder, the reported £15 million payday for the Latics must appear to be some compensation for the boy they signed from Hamilton Academical for around 1 million sterling. Yet is this the right move at the wrong time? Will the benefits of training with some of the world’s best players and coaches outweigh the lack of competitive first team football against those very players?
So I would like to have a look at the main competition that ‘our James’ will face after a move to the club showing the most interest, Liverpool.
In what could be lauded as McCarthy’s break through season in the EPL, he started 24 matches and played a total of 1,982 minutes. Bearing in mind he was injured from October till January (14 EPL games), there is a distinct possibility he would have been a permanent fixture throughout the whole season had Fabrice Muamba not destroyed his ankle. This coupled with a collective drop in form whilst he was out, could lead us to consider him to be a key cog in Martinez’s football framework.
Down the M62, Liverpool are building a squad capable of challenging for top honours this season, with new investment and a manager considered to be a great in those parts already instated. They will therefore need a wealth of experience and talent in midfield to be considered a force to be reckoned with.
And having already strengthened the forward line in January, they have made 3 astute (if a little pricey) moves for midfielders already this transfer window. Adding Henderson, Downing and Adam has created a midfield with bags of youth and experience, with plenty of competition to boot. But where would young James fit in?
I believe King Kenny sees McCarthy as a long term replacement for the increasingly injury prone Steven Gerrard. But with Adam, Henderson, Meireles, Lucas, Spearing, Shelvey and even Kuyt already occupying/capable of running things in the central midfield, it is hard to see how James would get close to the 33 appearances made by a 20 year old Gerrard.
|Shots on Target||7||13||24|
|Adjusted Passing (24 apps)||847||1613||1105|
|Possession Duels Won||117/226||115/215||132/238|
This table represents the two players that are in the same mould as McCarthy. As you can see McCarthy needs to work on his creativity when in the oppositions half and final third, falling far behind on both players on chance origin and assists. Total passes (847) is some way short of both Meireles (1519) and Gerrard (1412), although the players are not equal in respect to minutes played, an adjustment to take this into account shows Gerrard (1613) and Meireles (1105) both distribute the ball more frequently than McCarthy. The Wigan player does show high levels of accuracy in his work with a higher pass and tackle completion than his adversaries.
There is no doubt in my mind the right decision for McCarthy would be to stay with Wigan and continue to develop with first team football, as he is still some way off the finished article. He often seems to go missing for large parts of games (as perhaps shown through his ‘total passes’), and his form trailed off towards the end of the season, both of which need to be worked on to get him to the top. But regardless of that he works well with Watson and Diame, two important first team players in their own right and to progress we really need to keep this midfield core for at least another season.
So I plead with Uncle Dave (Whelan) and Bobby (Martinez) to do all in their power to retain the services of this young man for another 18 to 24 months, with a promise to develop him as a player and person capable of being a stalwart for a top club well into the future.