Transfer Deconstruction: James McCarthy

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James McCarthy is supposedly the next name on Roberto Martinez close season shopping list with the Spaniard reportedly willing to ‘swoop’ down on the DW with an offer similar to the £15m club record fee we paid Standard for the services of Fellaini back in 2008. Ironically, its Fellaini’s transfer out of the club that would probably expedite the McCarthy purchase unless we have somehow amassed enough cash to compete with the likes of Norwich and Swansea in the transfer market. So is the Irishman any good then? Is he massively overpriced? How will he fit in should the deal materialise? 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, he 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 (like Fellaini) who can get to the ball first, particularly against the better sides. Here he has benefitted from Wigan’s three man defence in that often two of the centre backs will step up into midfield and offer defensive protection behind him. Trappatoni (his international boss) usually prefers to have a more physical player alongside him to do this type of work.

Ball Retention

 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 passing data is largely better than Osman, Gibson and Fellaini.  His 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”

Passing Tempo / Direction

The above video provides a decent snapshot of what he 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.

Final Third

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.


 Its McCarthy’s tactical nouse and flexibility tactically which I think is the big draw for Martinez, given he has proven he is comfortable dropping into different tactical assignments (often switching mid game) during his time at Wigan….

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He’s used to playing predominately in a 2 man midfield with McArthur, and this would probably be the most likely way he would line up in a 4-2-3-1

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Whilst his defensive skills are iffy, he is comfortable dropping into defence to form a 3-4-3 utilising his distribution skills from the back. He showed in this position vs Arsenal that he can do this job, thus enabling the centre backs to split and the wing backs to push up. If his defensive work was improved there is no reason he couldn’t develop into a specialist in this DC/DMC area like De Rossi does at Roma.

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McCarthy has also featured in a 2-5-3 offensive setup under Martinez as part of three man central midfield

Market Value

Let’s be honest, the fee is extremely prohibitive and very ‘not 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. Gary Medel, another who has also been linked, is significantly more experienced and would cost significantly less, and was available for as little as £2m when Seville brought him over from Chile a few summers ago.


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 how much we actually have in the coffers. Whilst often a liability, Fellaini’s probable 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 and if we have enough money to bring in a player who will cover more of the gaps Fellaini will leave then great. If we haven’t then we should perhaps look to something cheaper offshore, or put together a heavily incentivized deal.

As a miser myself I’m probably not the best person to ask. Personally I won’t pay more than 70p for a yorkie or £4.50 for a premium lager. But for me, £15m still seems excessive, but then again I’ve been living in 2002 for a long time now.





6 thoughts on “Transfer Deconstruction: James McCarthy

  1. That’s a quite complete piece !

    You raised something fair when you spoke about his “creativity” on the ball. I like James McCarthy overally and I’m eager to look forward so see how he’ll evolve in that domain.

    For the last two seasons, his sideways passing game was down to the instructions he was given in order to feed the wing backs down the channels. Wigan’s best way to defend was by controlling the ball and the tempo, thus Martinez did emphasis on retaining the ball and not lose it too deep considering the way they had to fall back was the ball lost in Wigan’s half (wing backs had to overlap defensively but as they were up the field that was up to a midfielder to fill the gap temporarily, gap that had to be filled by Maloney taking a few steps backs).

    The amount of chances he creates every season gives interesting information on his actual abilities, rather than what we see through the prism of the role he’s been given.

    I think you could have evoked something related to his use in 2010/11. He was indeed used a step ahead two midfielders (Hendry Thomas and Mohamed Diamé most of the time) and I was impressed by the way he used his zone, the way he moved depending on where the ball was (not often out of position, upper or deeper to the ball whereas he should reasonabily be elsewhere).

    I agree with the fact he’s not creative in terms of penetring play. But to be fair if you look at the likes of Kroos, Oscar… they aren’t particulary creative either. But they share the similar activity and moreover, the right passing choices to oxygenate the play and feed players that are supposed to make the difference by themselves (Ribéry, Hazard… Mirallas)

    (sorry for my english, I’m french).

    Otherwise I wrote some stuff on Wigan’s 3-4-3 (in french) if you read french a little bit (anyway there’s loads of charts) (history of how Martinez implemented his 3-4-3 system and theoretical focus on how it works)
    Tactical analysis of the FA Cup final through 26 screenshots

    On the players likely to leave Wigan this summer, including McCarthy

  2. Great analysis, as usual.

    McCarthy is a tidy midfielder, but I wouldn’t pay £15M for him.

    Our very own Barkley is an emerging talent in midfield.

    If Fellaini does go, I’d go for Diame from West Ham, as a like for like.

    I agree that we will miss Fella’s height, in both boxes. Shane Duffy is a big lad, hopefully he will step up this year like Coleman did last season.

  3. “from a technical point of view he can play in any team in the world and he will do one day”
    So he is not currently playing for any team in the world then ?

    Or did his move to “Sea of Tranquility” finally come off ?

  4. Pingback: Fellaini - Page 40

  5. Are Yorkie’s really 70p?
    Great article…he was best midfielder to play at Goodison last season and I said after quarter final that we would have a good summer if all we did was buy him!

  6. Great article. Different level to anything read in a paper.

    Never been convinced by McCarthy. Watched him when i could as Everton have been linked to him well before Martinez cha-cha’d into my life. Never understood why he recieved twice the airtime of more dynamic midfielders, like Watson or McArthur. I assumed its his Rodwell-esq swagger that has football writers daydreaming of Hoddle peacocking about whilst never being anywhere near a league trophy. Your statistic of against 1.12 touches per (mostly backwards) pass says to me he’d have me scratching my head asking the same question watching Rodwell, “Is that it?”.

    I’ve no problem with signing a relegated player – Roy Keane was also 22yr when he moved to Man Utd but thats similarities end for me. If Martinez wants to play his style it would make more sense try get Rodwell back on loan and let Fellaini move further forward. I’m content with Gibson whos a similar job, but has a final ball in him and more of a goal threat. One cost £1.5m, the other a rumoured £15m.

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