James McCarthy only needs to look to Anthony Ralston as an inspiration for anyone looking to turn the court of public opinion back in their favour.
Ralston’s Celtic career looked to coming to an end before a lack of squad depth saw the full-back offered an initial one-year deal last summer. He then grabbed his opportunity when it arrived, becoming easily the most improved player on Celtic’s books last season, signing a long-term contract, becoming a fans’ favourite, and now is part of Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad for a crucial World Cup play off. It’s quite the story.
McCarthy now finds himself in a similar position. The general consensus would appear that with Callum McGregor and Yosuke Ideguchi ahead of McCarthy in the first team pecking order, that James will struggle for game-time next season, particularly after only getting four starts last season, in a campaign where the manager used 40 players and eventually stuck to a small circle of trust of less than twenty.
Yet with Nir Bitton now leaving Celtic there is an opportunity for an experienced head to play a part in Celtic’s midfield next season, it will now be down to James McCarthy to grasp that chance. And former manager Billy Reid, who was in charge at Hamilton Accies when McCarthy made his breakthrough in football has told Daily Record, be backs James McCarthy to ‘make the cynics eat their words’.
“James is in a position where he needs to prove himself all over again and show Celtic the player he can be. He’s been blighted by injuries in the latter part of his career but people forget that he had an incredible amount of senior appearances as a teenager and had huge demands placed on him.
“Those challenges were met head on and he not only showed his ability but also a huge character which he’ll need to call upon once again. But nobody needs to convince me he can still be a big success at Celtic. There will be some who have their doubts but if James can get minutes under his belt then I’d back him to make the cynics eat their words.
“Ange Postecoglou has a superb array of midfield players and it’s like anything in football, it’s all about proving that you deserve to play. That’s the test for James at Celtic and it’s a test he’ll already be aiming to rise to next season.
“I remember when we won the Championship at Hamilton and James was 16. The usual questions started about whether he could do it in the Premiership – James answered them by dominating the Young Player of the Year awards in Scotland.”
And Reid believes McCarthy can look to both Scott Brown, someone Reid says was written off every year after he turned 30, and Mark Noble at West Ham who bowed out of the EPL this season at 35 years of age but still capable of performing at the top level in England.
“There is a role for James at Celtic. He’s not the box-to-box player he was, he’s adapted to become a sitting midfielder where he can do the dirty side. Keeping it simple as a possession-based player, winning the ball back and being that central cog is what he’s so good at.
“There is stiff competition but it doesn’t matter what age you are, age is not a barrier. I look at Mark Noble who I saw when we played West Ham last week, he’s still at the top despite being 35 years old.
“Scott Brown was being written off every season after he turned 30 but look at the size of his character to show people they are wrong. He always came back stronger.”
Fitness concerns have certainly plagued James McCarthy in recent times and having left Crystal palace, McCarthy was training by himself prior to joining Celtic. That must have had an impact on his base level of fitness prior to signing on with Celtic and trying to get up to speed.
Yet McCarthy has been fit now for some time and this summer all being well will be able to enter into pre-season training on a level playing field with all his teammates.
As such this summer and forcing himself into Ange Postecoglou’s first team plans will be the big test for McCarthy but Reid believes his former player will be ready to go and prove the doubters wrong.
“Players are always being tested and this is another test for James. I’m just hoping that next season marks a positive turnaround for him as it’s probably fair to say that the last few years have not been where James wanted things to be.
“James just needs to get himself into the physical condition where he can do himself justice at Celtic and this summer can be a huge one for him. He’s a player who needs a run of games and a good pre-season where he stays injury free and that’s something he’s not managed to achieve in the last few seasons.
“The last time we spoke was at an airport when we were both going through the departure gates and he’s a brilliant guy who deserves everything the game has given him. He knows better than anyone that he needs to get his game back on the go again.
“His decision to come home to Scotland after years down south was to be with his family again and getting the chance to move to his boyhood club. It should be a match made in heaven for him but his career had been a bit stop-start prior to that and was always going to be a factor in him getting up to speed.”
Mark Noble and Scott Brown may well be good examples to follow if James McCarthy is looking for inspiration, but right across the changing room at pre-season will sit Tony Ralston and there is no better example of a player answering the door when opportunity knocked.
Could James McCarthy be the next to prove his doubters wrong? If he believes in himself as much as his former manager, he may well do just that.
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