James McCarthy became Roberto Martinez biggest signing of the summer in a £13m transfer last night – the biggest cash fee we have paid since the £15m deal with Standard for the services of Fellaini back in 2008. McCarthy was joined by ex Villa and City midfielder Gareth Barry as the clock ticked towards midnight. Ironically, its Fellaini’s transfer out of the club that has funded the midfield purchases. So are they any good then? Is McCarthy massively overpriced? How will the duo fit in? This lengthy ramble will try to shed some light on all the above matters….
Off the ball
Off the ball, McCarthy’s tackle completion is better than regular centre mid duo Gibson/Osman (although both are more renowned for their ability on the ball than breaking down opposition attacks). Last season McCarthy regained possession (tackles + interceptions) just 3.3 times per game, compared to Osman (4.7) and Gibson (3.4). The benchmark for this deep lying midfield role is Michael Carrick who weighed in with 4.4 per game last season.
Whilst he is an intelligent reader of the game who can intercept play, McCarthy isn’t the best tackler and in the position he plays in front of the back four this is an issue unless you have someone alongside him who can get to the ball first, particularly against the better sides. I would guess that Barry would take on more of this donkey work in this respect. The one time Liverpool target and ex England International regained possession 3.7 times per game last season and as an ex centre half he is more adept in the defensive phase. With Barry being left footed and McCarthy right you have a decent balance here also.
To his credit, on the ball McCarthy is in the top 10% of central midfielders in the Premier League. In his position he is ranked 8th for volume of passes made per game, 12th for passing accuracy and 10th for most accurate long passes. His new colleague Gareth Barry weighs in with the sixth most passes made per game last season, so the early season dynamic of excessive passing is likely to be ramped up further.
Both player’s passing data is better than Osman, Gibson and Fellaini. McCarthy’s long ball distribution from deep areas is particularly good, firing in with a 77% completion, which is better than our two most prolific distributors from deep areas Gibson (64%) and Jagielka (58%). This is a key component at Everton given the importance of switching play to the wingbacks on each flank, something I don’t envisage changing under Martinez.
“There aren’t many midfielders who are as complete. The maturity and composure he has on the pitch is rare. I think technically, it’s difficult to find a better player. You saw a more eye-catching display against QPR (where he scored twice) on the ball and when he drove forward it was impressive. At 22 to have the tactical awareness that he has, he can play in any team in the world – and he will do one day. James knows he needs another period of improvement, but from a technical point of view he can play in any team in the world and he will do one day” – Martinez on McCarthy
Passing Tempo / Direction
The above video provides a decent snapshot of what McCarthy brings to the table over 90mins. In this fixture against the Champions he hit 69 passes from 78 touches = 1.13 touches per pass, a better ratio even than Carrick who in that game made 1.20 touches per pass. In the equivalent game for us, Gibson made 33 passes from 48 touches (1.45 touches per pass) with Osman making 23 passes from 40 touches (1.73 touches per pass). Whilst his passing frequency was higher, the % of forward passes from McCarthy (49%) was lower than Osman (52%) and significantly lower than Gibson (70%). What does this tell us? As with all stats it’s down to interpretation. You could say he’s a crab, but you could argue his passing tempo is significantly quicker, if albeit more conservative.
One notable development area for McCarthy is being able to channel his undoubted ability into dictating games more on the ball and increasing the frequency of his forward drives which, when deployed, have been eye catching.
National team boss Giovanni Trappatoni certainly thinks his outputs in the final third could improve;
“Despite my respect for James, you can’t say he is creative. James is good, he’s linear, he’s an easy player but he’s not creative. I saw many, many [of his] games. I hope he can get more personality. There are players who create time for other players. James is not this typical player.”
To balance this out, ‘The Trap’ is the same man who selected Keith Andrews ahead of Darren Gibson in Euro 2012 and whose people skills have alienated many capable Irish players. Maybe the old Italian’s comments were an attempt to get more out of McCarthy, to jolt his somewhat passive nature, but the above comments would certainly give off more than a whiff of ex toffee Jack Rodwell - who as an aside would have fitted much more cosily into the Martinez era than he did in the Moyes stewardship.
A lack of incision and a lack of confidence where cornerstones of what held Rodwell back and the worry is that McCarthy is another from the production line of British robotic academy players, or James Milner if you like, that will give you a wet shirt, play plenty of square passes but crucially lack the spacial awareness or vision to thread a pass that can impact a game.
Or is he? Despite only averaging 2 goals and 2 assists per season during his time at Wigan, the data shows that McCarthy comfortably created more chances (36) than either Osman or Gibson last season, and virtually the same as Carrick who claimed 37. I think he has in his locker the ability to pick incisive forward passes but it perhaps just needs coaxing out of him. So perhaps this critique of him is not justified and it’s the limitations of his team mates at club and international level which have stunted his reputation in the final third.
On the pitch, McCarthy has a moderately good disciplinary record with no red cards, although he averages 7 bookings per season. There is a feeling though that he needs to come out of his shell more and dominate opponents and matches more regularly. Trappatoni has highlighted this as a key development area for the Irishman;
” James can increase his personality, in one or two years he can be better than Whelan. (Don’t laugh, he is referring to Glenn Whelan) He can be a little bit shy and I have said this to him. He needs to command the play”
His decision as a teenager to reject the advances of Benitez whilst the rotund tactician was still in office at the tin mine, coupled with the broad shoulders he displayed to stick to his guns in the face of sectarian abuse in Scotland over his decision to represent Ireland (rather than Scotland) are indications of a strong mind.
Let’s be honest, the fee is extremely prohibitive and not very Everton, particularly being in one of the ‘less than sexy’ positions that supporters generally don’t see value in. Whereas Carrick is now getting the credit he deserves, a lot of players who occupy the deeper midfield slots are pigeon holed as water carriers – in some cases correctly, but in others less so. The fee the dark side recklessly spunked on a similar type of player (although nowhere near as good) - the painfully impotent Joe ‘Xavi’ Allen – is perhaps dictating the figures with this one.
At 22 years of age you have virtually guaranteed sell on money unless it’s a complete disaster (which I doubt) but a big portion of any future profit rests on the hope that he can develop as Martinez thinks he will into one of the top players in his position in world football. The issue I guess is that such players are available for a significantly lower premium overseas and Fernando – the Brazilian who was also linked with the Blues – would probably have delivered better value. With regard to Barry, there was no loan fee but worrying rumours have it that we have taken on his full £120k a week wages which – if true – will equate to £6m which is horrible.
I like McCarthy. He’s a class player with two good feet, balance and a great range of passing, is good at retaining possession and building attacks from the back, driving forward and is tactically spot on. He’s also physically in top shape, has no documented booze or mdma habits, reduces the average age of the squad and wages wise what he would command is manageable.
His weak point is in the tackle, as well as an inability to express himself fully, which I guess would come with age and with the correct management. In a nutshell, If he was brought to the club I’d be more than happy.
The big issue I guess is money, and the fee that was highly inflated courtesy of gobshite in-chief Dave Whelan. Whilst often a liability, Fellaini’s departure will leave gaps all over the pitch notably in terms of aerial coverage in both boxes, regaining possession and his healthy goals/assists contribution. McCarthy has a completely different skillset, and one more suited to the evolution of the style Martinez is looking to achieve. Barry and Lukaku will plug the aerial gaps the Belgian has left but we still appear light of a real ball winner, although I guess with the possession we enjoy this is less of a risk than it would have been under the previous regime.