James McCarthy has endured a frustrating season.
The Irish international has struggled for fitness in form in recent months, and even found himself at the centre of a war of words between Ronald Koeman and Martin O’Neill.
The 25 year old is a divisive figure among Ireland fans, and his international midfield partnership with Glenn Whelan has been much maligned, but pundits and players in England have always heaped praise on the combative midfielder.
In 2014, Gareth Barry claimed that McCarthy “is up there and in terms of playing alongside and influencing games he is up with the best I’ve played with already.”
That’s high praise from a player who has played with Yaya Toure, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes.
McCarthy has been linked with a move to England’s top clubs for several years, but his career has stagnated, and he now he faces the prospect of being unwanted by Everton.
The former Wigan midfielder missed the early part of the season through injury, and the signs would indicate that he will be a fringe player at best under Ronald Koeman.
When Koeman was asked about McCarthy’s future last month, he replied:
“I don’t know. I did not speak with James about his situation.”
His response is unlikely to fill McCarthy with hope.
Idrissa Gueye has been a revelation since his summer switch from Aston Villa, and Gareth Barry is preferred to McCarthy alongside the Senegalese midfielder.
Whether McCarthy is allowed to leave in January or not depends on whether Koeman feels he has enough cover for Gueye – who is currently on international duty with Senegal at the AFCON – in his absence.
Morgan Schneiderlin is reportedly on the verge of a switch to Goodison from Manchester United, and it’s likely that he will slot into midfield alongside Gareth Barry while Gueye is on international duty.
While a fee has yet to be agreed, it is believed that the Frenchman is undergoing his medical today. Schneiderlin’s arrival would see the competition for central midfield places intensify, and leave four holding midfielders battling for two places.
McCarthy is likely to be the midfielder who suffers, but what are his options?
Celtic and West Brom have both been linked with a move for the Irish international in recent weeks, with a figure of £15m being touted.
Celtic are running away with the SPL, and Brendan Rodgers has an excellent record of rejuvenating players whose careers have stagnated. A return to his native Scotland may also appeal to McCarthy.
Tony Pulis’ West Brom have been excellent this season, and are currently eighth in the table, just a point and a place behind the Toffees.
The Baggies have had a bid for Schneiderlin rejected, and ironically, may now move for McCarthy instead.
Newcastle have also been credited with a move for McCarthy in recent days, with Rafa Benitez allegedly a fan of the midfielder. However, it seems unlikely that McCarthy will willingly step down to the Championship.
Of course, the midfielder also has the option of remaining at Goodison to fight for his place in Koeman’s plans, and the month-long absence of Gueye could be the turning point for the Irish international if he returns from injury next week as reported.
McCarthy faces a tough decision, but at 25, he needs regular first team football.
He may even find himself on the bench for Ireland unless his situation improves. His midfield rivals Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick and Harry Arter all start every week in the Premier League, and Hendrick and Arter in particular have been in good form in recent months.
McCarthy has thus far failed to justify the hype around him, but he still has time on his side.
His next decision could be the most important of his career.