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Why does Koeman regard McCarthy so highly?

Manager gives tough-tackling midfielder a vote of confidence

Everton v Espanyol: Pre-Season Friendly
James McCarthy
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Soon after the end of the summer transfer window, Sky Sports reporter Jim White tweeted this note, purportedly from Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri.

“.. But when I bought into Everton, I made it clear I was proud to join a family. And we don’t turn our backs on our own. Keeping James McCarthy was a priority and ultimately we could not proceed with a deal that would jeopardize his place at Everton..”

At the time, fans were mystified at the defence of the Republic of Ireland international who had just completed an underwhelming season, Roberto Martinez’s last at Everton. Gareth Barry had looked agonizingly old and McCarthy out of sorts, and the Toffees looked ready to move on with Idrissa Gueye and just about anyone else who was match-fit.

However, manager Ronald Koeman hung in there with McCarthy, keeping his patience despite the injury setbacks he faced during the season. The Dutchman even went to war against Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, co-caretakers of the Irish national side, accusing them of not keeping the player’s best interests in mind.

And now we can see why Koeman backed his man all along.

In an interview before the squad traveled to Stoke City for today’s game, the manager said that he felt McCarthy added an important dimension to the team and was a big part of the Toffees midfield even in the future.

“James is at a really good fitness level and that makes him a better player than I saw in the beginning. I think at the beginning of the season he wasn’t fit and he had problems with his hamstrings.

“But I’m very pleased with his quality and how he’s involved in the team.

“We need competition for places in the midfield, which is why there was no possibility of one of the midfielders going in the January window.

“Yes, Darron Gibson was allowed to leave because there was too much competition for him [to play regularly], but that’s not the case with James McCarthy.

“I think he’s a really good player and we need players like this for the future of Everton.”

McCarthy can arguably be credited for three key points of this season for Everton, but the first one was a negative. Asked to play in the left wingback spot away at West Bromwich Albion in the second game of the season, he looked desperately overwhelmed and hit his lowest point as an Evertonian. He was taken off after 38 minutes, the just-recovered Romelu Lukaku came on and the Blues came from behind to win 2-1. The Blues then went off on a flyer, winning five of their first six games of the season.

The next turning point was against Arsenal at home, the sixteenth game of the season. After a good start to the year the momentum had faltered and one win in ten games had fans loudly questioning Koeman. Then the Gunners went up early and Goodison Park was quickly turning into the toxic arena of the last couple of years. But twenty minutes into the game, the switch went on inside McCarthy’s head and he clattered into a couple of tackles. The crowd were roused, the team woke from its slumber and furiously fought back to win 2-1, including a heroic performance to withstand an Arsenal siege for the last few minutes.

Then in the home leg of the Merseyside Derby, Liverpool were mostly held quiet in the first half as the Blues pushed relentlessly, choking their midfield with an aggressive press that killed off their free-flowing style. But McCarthy went off injured at the half, and the Reds ran rampant in the next stanza before scoring late in time added on to win the game.

It’s clear now why Everton resisted multiple advances for McCarthy during the now-closed January transfer window. Koeman has been a big believer in the Irishman turning it around and once again becoming a key player in this team, now it’s for the player to repay that faith in his manager.