When Roberto Martinez left Wigan Athletic to succeed David Moyes in the Everton hotseat in 2013, it seemed inevitable that some of the players he had left behind
as his side were relegated to the Championship would follow him to Goodison that summer.
Arouna Kone and the out-of-contract Antolin Alcaraz were obvious candidates but, despite his reputation as the Latics' best player and a close season of almost constant speculation linking him with the Blues, James McCarthy's path to Merseyside was less obvious because of the enormous £15M price tag placed around his neck by Dave Whelan.
It would not be until after the 11pm transfer deadline that September that the Irish international would be confirmed as Martinez's most expensive
acquisition of the summer when he sealed a £13m move from the DW Stadium after Marouane Fellaini was sold to Manchester United.
The Glasgow-born midfielder might have ended up in Liverpool a lot sooner had he chosen to play at Anfield following a trial in 2009 when he was still a teenager with Hamilton Academical in Scotland. He ended up signing for Wigan that July, however, in a deal worth £1.2M and would eventually make a goalscoring Premier League debut in January 2010 against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
After helping Wigan mount one of the Premier League's most impressive escape acts from relegation the following season, he extended his contract with the Latics in the summer of 2011 and had cemented his place in Martinez's midfield by the time the Latics dumped Everton out of the FA Cup quarter finals in March 2013 on their way to Wembley glory against Manchester City.
In McCarthy's first season with Everton, solid and consistent
performances in midfield increasingly demonstrated his value to the club,
as he struck up an excellent partnership shielding the back four alongside
McCarthy had hamstring injuries on and off during his second season at
Everton, where he was mostly required to play very deep invariably as one
of two central defensive
midfielders; forays forward – even forward passes – were a rarity. At one
point Martinez brought him back into the team too soon after another
hamstring (Wolfsburg away) and he lasted about 10 minutes.
He did get
forward to good effect on one memorable occasion – to score the opening
goal in the defeat of Manchester United at Goodison Park, where he showed great skill to
burst through the last line of defenders with a bobbling ball and clip
it nicely past De Gea.
At the end of the season, rumours seemingly emanating from his agent
suggested the player was not happy because a promise to renegotiate his
contract at the end of his first season had still not been fulfilled by the
club. But the rumour mill was again proved wrong as he
signed a significantly improved 5-year
contract in June 2015 and bought in to Roberto's Golden Generation concept.
McCarthy was a regular in midfield for Roberto Martinez's third and
final season as Everton manager, a first name on the teamsheet as one of
his favourites. But his indifferent form may have reflected a
chronic injury problem that he struggled with since November 2015. He went
off with 20 minutes remaining at Bournemouth and, though he returned a
month later, he was never fully fit for the rest of the season.
It was enough,
however, to take him to Euro2016 and a fine display in a momentous group
game where the Irish beat Italy to secure a place in the Round of 16. But
the arrival of Idrissa Gueye would threaten his
place in the Everton team under new manager Ronald Koeman.
was the subject of rumoured interest from Celtic, Newcastle, Sunderland,
Leicester City and Crystal Palace during the closing weeks of the summer
2016 transfer window after losing his starting role in central midfield
and being employed in an unaccustomed right wing-back role. However,
Ronald Koeman revealed that McCarthy was suffering a groin problem and
was not for sale.
That groin problem needed an operation that would keep him out of the
side after he came off early in the second game of the new season.
He would not return fully until December, when he picked up another
injury after three starts, this time his hamstring.
an unseemly club-versus-country war of words with the Irish camp who insisted
on using McCarthy whenever they could get away with it, much to the
annoyance of Koeman. He played sporadically, but the hamstring
problem only got worse and McCarthy ended up missing the last three months
of the 2016-17 season.
And injury continued to thwart McCarthy's chances of
playing a part in Koeman's rapidly changing squad as the 2017-18
season began. By the time Sam Allardyce was appointed as interim boss following Koeman's sacking in October 2017, McCarthy was
close to reclaiming his regular role but suffered a horrendous double leg fracture of the tibia and
fibula in a challenge with West Brom striker, Salomon Rondon, the Venezuelan
McCarthy's leg with full force instead of the ball.
An operation four days later to set the broken bones was followed by a
lengthy period of recovery but while the Irishman was finally declared ready to return to action
10 months later, in October 2018, it wasn't until the following spring that he would make his one and only appearance of the 2018-19 season as a substitute.
Understandably given his lack of playing time under Silva, there would be plenty more speculation around his future at Everton when the 2019 close season transfer window rolled around. Furthermore, his new international manager, Mick McCarthy, elected not to select him for Ireland's summer fixtures, stressing the need for him to sort out his future instead.
That led to James making a long-rumoured move to Crystal Palace on the eve of the summer 2019 transfer deadline, putting pen to paper on a three-year deal at Selhurst Park and an £8.5m transfer that brought to a close his six-year association with Everton.
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