There has been speculation that James McCarthy is wanted by both Manchester United and Tottenham, just a year after leaving Wigan for £13million.
So, I ask Everton’s highly rated central midfielder how he would feel playing under Tottenham’s new manager Mauricio Pochettino. That is when the Republic of Ireland international reveals he could have moved to White Hart Lane last season if Spurs chairman Daniel Levy had not haggled over the price.
“Tottenham didn’t come up with the money but Everton did within the last couple of hours [of the transfer window closed]. Obviously it was just one of those things with Tottenham.”
However, Everton rated the 23- year-old so highly they had no problem paying out £13m, the second highest transfer fee in their history.
There have been reports that Louis van Gaal is prepared to double that figure to take McCarthy to United although Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane has strongly advised the player against such a move saying: “He’s only been at Everton two minutes.”
When I ask, McCarthy about the speculation he says: “If a club like Manchester United are interested, obviously you are doing a good job.” Then with a laugh he adds: “We will see what happens.”
Should such a transfer come about McCarthy knows it would be very different from when he left Wigan.
“I loved playing for Wigan. They won the FA Cup but [with their relegation] getting back to playing in the Premier League was a big target and it was wonderful to do so with Everton. It was an eye opener: all that history and the fan base. The fans have been brilliant from day one. I’m loving it. That is what you dream of as a kid.”
Those words should provide some comfort for Everton managerRoberto Martinez, who knows the player well. The Spaniard brought him to Wigan in July 2009 when McCarthy was an 18-year-old playing for Hamilton Academicals.
This was one of the first signings Martinez made at Wigan and it is no surprise that McCarthy’s move to Everton followed a similar pattern. For Martinez, McCarthy’s value is that he “is a very good thinker” and even describes him as a tactical genius. High praise but justified as McCarthy was central to Martinez’s plans to convert David Moyes’s dour Everton into an inventive side.
The pupil in turn cannot praise the teacher enough. “I’ve known him five years now and he’s brilliant. Last season, the lads here knew he wanted to change the system they were used to. They adapted very quickly and well. They are a great set of lads and, with the gaffer bringing in Gareth Barry, I have just loved it. We had the highest points’ tally we have ever had in the Premier League [72 points and finishing above Tottenham and Manchester United] which was brilliant.”
While that was not enough to get into the Champions League, McCarthy makes it clear that the Everton players do not see the Europa League as a tin pot tournament.
“You would like to get into the Champions League but, thankfully, we’ve got the Europa League. A lot of people say the Europa League is not such a big thing but it was a massive achievement for each and everyone of us at the club. It will be tough but we will give it everything.
“Obviously, it will be a long season with the Europa League and I am sure the gaffer will bring in rotation. To be honest, I’m looking forward to getting into the season and getting going again. It is a big season ahead.”
McCarthy says one of his personal objectives for the season is “to add a few more goals to my game” which is not surprising given that Everton fans had to wait for the last match of the campaign to see him score.
And, as for his objectives for Everton, McCarthy is looking very high. “We are no different from any other club. Our main aim is to get into the Champions League. We want to improve on last season and push on even further. Everyone’s dream is to win the Premier League, isn’t it? Liverpool nearly did that. They did not get there in the end. So you never know. Obviously, we will bring in players and we won’t get carried away. It’s a longer season but we will give it our best shot.”
McCarthy’s objectives for the season extend beyond the Premier League. Qualifying for Euro 2016 kicks off and on October 11 the Republic face their toughest test when they play world champions Germany in Gelsenkirchen. However, it is the two games against Scotland that will have special significance for the Glasgow-born midfielder.
McCarthy was brought up on stories of Jock Stein, his 1967 Lisbon Lions, and Celtic becoming the first British club to win the European Cup. So why is he playing for Ireland?
“I was told that I wasn’t in the team for Scotland and then Ireland came along and they put me in the squad straight away,” said McCarthy, who qualifies for the Republic through his grandparents.
“It was brilliant to get capped. Not qualifying for the World Cup was a big disappointment but now we’ve got this opportunity and, hopefully, we can achieve big things with the Euros.
“When we meet up in camp and get together, we will get everybody focused on the goals that we want to achieve. You want to qualify for big tournaments.”
There is no denying McCarthy’s determination to do well this season. What cannot be determined is whether he will still be an Everton player by the time the transfer window closes.