James McCarthy: Wigan’s unheralded, lung-busting gem

After playing a vital role in their desperate scramble to avoid relegation in the last two seasons, Wigan’s Irish midfielder is helping Roberto Martinez’s side attempt the great escape again with a series of battling performances at the heart of the side.

McCarthy will also turn out for the Latics at Wembley this Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final with Millwall, a huge achievement for a side that continues to fight above all expectation with a squad that, with the likes of McCarthy, has been assembled sensibly on a small budget.

 

Profile

22 year old McCarthy was born in Glasgow and after numerous trials with childhood club Celtic, he was turned away after the club had already taken on a large quota of players. He then joined Hamilton Academical where he became the youngest player to turn out for the club in the 21st century.

His full debut, against Airdree United in 2006 came a day short of his 16th birthday, his talent being spotted from a very young age.

He continued to break club records with his goal in a Scottish Cup defeat against Livingston, aged just 16 years and 55 days, making him the youngest ever scorer in The Accies’ history. He earned a reputation for being an unheralded force in the side, allowing others to thrive as he went about his business quietly and intelligently in midfield.

His performances helped Hamilton gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 2008 and he duly signed a three-year contract extension in the summer, going on to play 37 times in the club’s first year back at the top in 20 years. It was a successful year as the club finished a respectable 9th place and McCarthy, who scored 6 goals, was rewarded for his quality by winning the SPFA Young Player of the Season.

Despite reported interest from Chelsea and Liverpool at the time, the Blues were said to have scouted the midfielder at least four times, it was Wigan Athletic who acquired his services for £1.25 million in the summer of 2009 with the promise of first team football appealing to the player ahead of approaches from Spurs and Wolves who made no such guarantees.

Martinez initially eased McCarthy into the team, handing him 20 matches in his debut season, scoring his first goal in an FA Cup tie with Hull before marking his full Premier League debut with a goal against Wolves.

An impressive start to the following season was stalled by a foot injury that ruled him out for three months, though he still managed to make 24 appearances, helping Wigan to stay up and managing to earn a five year contract extension the summer of 2011.

He has grown into an integral member of Martinez’s squad since, making 33 appearances in total last season and then going on to make 31 so far this year. He has cemented his place in Wigan’s midfield alongside James McCarthur, who McCarthy also played alongside at Hamilton, pulling the strings in Martinez’s favoured 3-4-3 system.

Despite being born, raised and receiving his education in Scotland, McCarthy was influenced to play for Ireland by his grandfather, and he has gone to represent them at all youth levels since receiving an invitation to play for the Republic at the age of sixteen.

He has yet to score for Ireland but has eleven caps to his name, plus an inclusion to the country’s Euro 2012′s squad from which he later withdrew after his father was diagnosed with cancer.

 

Strengths, style and weaknesses

McCarthy can play in defensive midfield, but mainly operates as a centre-midfielder in a double-pivot with Scotsman McArthur in a 3-4-3, he has appeared 30 times there so far this term.

Comfortable on the ball, he is also able to mix it in the engine room of Wigan’s side, attempting 87 tackles so far this season and winning 74% of them. He has also made 51 interceptions at an average of 2 per game, showing his effectiveness at patrolling the areas in front of his defence. His dogged attitude towards midfield play has also conceded a lot of fouls, impeding players with 49% of his attempted challenges for which he has picked up 8 yellow cards.

However, his defensive contributions hasn’t managed to detriment McCarthy’s creative influence and he remains a very tidy player, averaging 59 passes per match at an accuracy of 87.9%. Despite his 28 chances created, he seldom manages to get forward, taking just 19 shots in this campaign and scoring just 2 goals. He has also managed just 1 assists from his 31 matches so far.

His main work is carried out in the centre of the park, using his vision to feed the ball forward rather than leave his disciplined station in-front of the defence. With the pace and movement of Arouna Kone, Jean Beausejour, Franco Di Santo and Shaun Maloney in front of him, McCarthy is not short of options, able to avoid going long, as indicated by his avoidance of the long ball, attempting just 157 in contrast to his vast amount of short passes, over 1,300 in total.

It shows that McCarthy is always on the lookout for a pass, constantly willing to keep the ball moving, in-keeping with the Martinez philosophy of ball-retention.

Despite only being 22, McCarthy, having been exposed to professional football since the age of 15, has bags of experience to call upon, vital in Wigan’s annual fight for Premier League survival. It is this strong know-how, in tandem with his youthful endeavour in a midfield partnership with his 25 year old counter-part James McCarthur that is providing a solid back-bone to Wigan’s run to the latter stages of the FA Cup and has given them a great chance of avoiding Premier League relegation for an eighth successive year.

 

Transfer situation

Whilst there can be no doubting McCarthy’s ability or his worth to this Wigan side, there is a growing feeling that the club, who continue to operate on one of the smallest budgets in the Premier League, may not be able to hold on to their battling midfielder for much longer.

Arsenal and Liverpool have both recently been linked with the Irishman who has done little to dispel speculation, saying “it is always nice to (receive links with other clubs) but I remain a Wigan player and we shall see what the end of the season brings”.

Although McCarthy has said he’s happy at the club, he may have to leave to further his career and become a more permanent inclusion in the Irish team, Giovanni Trappatoni has only picked him eleven times in the last three years despite his emergence in the Premier League.

With his career still in its relative infancy at just 22, McCarthy’s ambition may want to move to something higher than yearly battles with relegation. The possibility of an FA Cup success, together with yet another great escape, could provide him with the perfect chance to leave Wigan.

There is no doubt however, that the Latics will demand a big fee for their energetic, dynamic midfielder who has been a revelation since his bargain move in 2009.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Luis Suarez: Red-hot Uruguayan steals the show against the Latics

Top of the match:
Luis Suarez

Flop of the match:
Arouna Kone

After the shock Europa league exit, a week ago Liverpool posted a commanding 4-0 victory at DW stadium on the Saturday night. Downing’s opener followed by Suarez’s hat-trick had earned comfortable 3 points for the visiting side.

Reading’s loss at Goodison Park had left something for the Latics’ to cheer about as they stand level on points with Aston Villa in the 16th position; the latter play the 2nd placed Manchester City tomorrow.

Roberto Martinez played the same team which had beaten Reading in the last match day, whereas Brendan Rodgers made a single change in his side which thrashed Swansea, 5-0 couple of weeks ago- Joe Allen replacing the unavailable Daniel Sturridge.

Plenty of actions had occurred in the opening two minutes of the game- Boyce’s cross from the left found the unmarked Kone, whose weak shot was saved by Liverpool’s long-time Spanish custodian Pepe Reina. Soon after Kone’s miss, there followed the Liverpool’s counter. Phillipe Coutinho, with his spectacular skills got past Boyce and his cross from the left found the unmarked Downing who headed perfectly past a helpless Al Habsi.

16 minutes later, Coutinho’s skills came into the fore once again. Skipping past Maloney, the 20-year old Brazilian’s through ball found Suarez and the Uruguayan made no mistake to put the ball beyond Al Habsi’s reach to earn the Reds’ second of the night.

When Liverpool were leading 2-0 twenty minutes after the kick-off, a golden chance was handed to Wigan to pull one back. But Boyce’s powerful volley was beautifully saved by Pepe Reina. Moments later, an unnecessary clash between Boyce and McArthur occurred as the latter’s foolish back pass went into the legs of Suarez, who failed to pounce on the error.

Minutes later, though, Luis Suarez was fouled near the edge of the box and the Uruguayan stepped forward to earn his second through a deflected free-kick which found the right corner of the net.

Moments later, after Liverpool’s third goal, Beausejour’s cross found the Argentine Di Santo whose powerful header from 8-yards out was saved by the Liverpool goalie. During the closing stages of the first half, Wigan were given a free-kick near the edge of the area. Once again, Reina made a spectacular save with his right hand to deny Beausejour’s powerfully struck free-kick.

Wigan’s condition went from bad to worse, soon after the second half kick-off. Glenn Johnson dribbled the ball past 3 defenders brilliantly near the centre line to break Suarez loose. The former Ajax man completed his hat-trick with a finely executed shot which struck the inner side of the net and through the legs of a bemused Al Habsi.

At around the 70 minute mark, Enrique’s mistake left the substitute McManaman free and the midfielders beautiful cross was shot just wide by McCarthy. No dangerous attacks came through either side after McCarthy’s shot and Liverpool gained a well deserved 3 points.

 

Written by Raghuvarman Sampathu

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Wigan: The Latics’ Premier League Romance Could Be About To End

Wigan’s rise from the old Division Two to the top tier in just two seasons and subsequent plucky existence in the Premier League remains a good old fashioned underdog story in a game that looses further touch with common sense by the week.

Chairman Dave Whelan, despite his many outspoken imperfections, would not sack his manager for gaining two promotions in two years with his side sitting fifteenth at the top table, he would probably back him if he guided his team to relegation which seems increasingly likely with Wigan four points and four places below Southampton and staring a return to the Championship down the eye after eight dogged years competing with the very best.

The Latics have won just five times in 23 games and the weekend’s defeat to Sunderland became their eleventh winless game from their last thirteen matches. They are known for being risers to the occasion when it really matters, they had four points less at this stage last year before a great climax to the season eventually kept them up, but as Sunderland condemned them to their seventh home defeat of the season, the most in the league, it looked likely this year could see their stay of execution under the amicable Roberto Martinez finally ended.

Wigan’s football remained as stylish as ever as they slipped to the 2-3 reversal to Martin O’Neill’s in-form team, as expected under Martinez who has refused to compromise his continental roots despite desperate streaks of form that have become habitual at the DW. It has been the strangest of back-stories, the Spaniard landing in the obscurity of an unestablished club in Division Three, they were only elected to the Football League as recently as 1978, who has gone on to become a sophisticated hero in the rugby-fanatical lands of north Lancashire.

Dave Whelan, one of the few remaining working class hero owners involved in the game, has led a one-man crusade against extortionate season ticket prices, they have the cheapest in the Premier League at £250 and remarkably, the 6th cheapest out of the whole 92 clubs in the league pyramid.

It is hard to imagine how a club like Wigan, living on a paltry attendance of an 18,000 average despite the attractive prices, can survive amongst the behemoths of Arsenal, Manchester United and co. but they do, and they do it with fluid football on the pitch to boot, it would take the sternest of hearts to wish the league would lose Wigan who continue to fly the flag for the little guy amongst the rich and powerful.

One wouldn’t expect to find tactical innovation in the unfashionable setting of Wigan, but Martinez’s 3-4-3 is a pioneering system driven by the brilliant James McCarthy in the heart of midfield allows for high pressing and neat passing which is a product of Martinez’s Spanish footballing education.

Against Sunderland however, defensive fragility caused by the recent long term injury to Ivan Ramis which could tip them closer to the brink of relegation, saw an early David Vaughan own goal cancelled out by three strikes that the home side, despite Angelo Henriquez’s late header, had no tangible answer to.

The second half display which saw vast improvement and Martinez “pleased”, had come too late and it left the Latics a meagre five points from the last possible thirty on offer. Attacking has also been a problem despite the neat build-up that Martinez presides over, twenty five goals have been scored in the league but the side remain short of a consistent source of goals.

Arouna Kone, a summer budget signing from Levante, is top scorer with just 6, while Franco Di Santo, despite showing glimpses this season of a talent that once swayed Chelsea to his services, has been once again frustrating in front of goal, he has just four. Martinez will be hoping Manchester United’s Angelo Henriquez produces his proposed talent to bridge the quality gap that has gone missing in losing Victor Moses and hasn’t yet been sufficiently been replaced.

The likes of Mohamed Diame, the midfield powerhouse now at West Ham, Hugo Rodellega and Charles N’Zogbia who have departed for Fulham and Aston Villa respectively in recent years have been relied upon to provide the quality needed for Martinez’s modest outfit to barely survive, but this season such individual threat seems worryingly absent.

Jordi Gomez, Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza provide an exotic influence in servicing Di Santo or Kone in attack, in front of the energetic midfield of James’s McCarthy and McCarthur, but there appears to be nobody wiling to step up and make the difference like Moses did last year and form is suffering as a result.

Defeat to Sunderland is just the latest setback in a long line for Martinez and he will set about trying to guide Wigan on another belated change of course back to safety with fourteen games left, yet it is increasingly looking ominous that the small Lancashire will finally lose their flimsy Premier League status after eight years at the top spent proving small clubs can cut it with the best without selling their soul.

It will be sad to lose them.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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