Recently Everton FC have begun asking Evertonians to nominate their Player of the Season for the 2013-14 campaign and although the season is far from over and the Toffees still have six Premier League fixures to contend with, it has been playing on my mind as to who I would pick to take the award this season, but it has also made me finally get down to writing a piece about a player who I had planned to write about previously, but not got round to doing so.
Leighton Baines took the award for the stand out Everton player of 2012-13, but this year there is a number of candidates and a number of reasons why supporters feel their particular nomination is worthy of being awarded the accolade of the Club’s Player of the Season for this term.
Looking down the team sheet at Goodison Park you could literally name five or six players that could easily be given the award; the most popular names would probably be Gareth Barry, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy or even the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and what about Sylvain Distin or Tim Howard, some may even say Bryan Oviedo or Leighton Baines? Some of those aforementioned players may be awarded the Young Player of the Season, which could narrow down the candidates for the full award, but I have come to my decision as to who I think deserves the nod for our best player during Roberto Martinez’ maiden season in charge – and that man is James McCarthy.
“£13 million for James McCarthy?!”I lost count of the amount of times I heard it. When McCarthy joined Everton, many of us (me included) took a deep breath at the fee we paid. He was still relatively young, had been relegated with Wigan and had previously been linked with a move to Arsenal/Liverpool for a much lesser fee. We had a new manager, and his transfer dealings had been impressive so far, but was £13 million for McCarthy a bit of a gamble? Especially with Everton’s limited financial resources?
Well if his signing was a gamble, it has certainly paid off.
McCarthy has gone on to play all but one of Everton’s League fixtures this season and has already justified the money we paid for him in less than a year at his new Club. He has been nothing short of outstanding and has slotted into Martinez’ side like a dream – hard working, energetic, tough in the tackle and all over the pitch – probably the best way to describe James McCarthy in a royal blue shirt over the last 9 months.
I will be the first to admit I was unsure when he first arrived; I knew the price tag he carried would add pressure to his game and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Irishman, after only seeing him in small doses for Wigan. I knew other Clubs had previously been linked with him but he had remained at the DW Stadium, and he was obviously a key figure under Martinez when the Latics went down – but also made history by winning the FA Cup. McCarthy was joined in the Toffees midfield by Manchester City’s Gareth Barry, who was an experienced Premier League player, and Everton’s new boss also added Romelu Lukaku to his squad who had scored goals for West Brom on loan previously, plus the highly rated Gerard Deulofeu or ‘that kid from Barca’ as he was known back then. McCarthy had experience in the Premier League and was a full Irish international, but he seemed to be the one who had his most doubters and as I say I will openly admit to being unsure about his addition at first. It was a new-look Everton, and I along with everyone was feeling excited but nervous.
But I am not a football manager, and I hadn’t previously managed McCarthy, or watched him on a regular basis, so before jumping the gun, I had to give him time. Before too long, it became apparent to me why Everton and Roberto Martinez had invested such a large chunk of our transfer kitty in the midfielder, and since then he has only further justified his move from Wigan and made me, and many other Blues, eat humble pie. Just as some doubted Martinez because he had been relegated (don’t forget, many wrote him off before he had managed an Everton game) McCarthy also had the label of being relegated with Wigan in very recent times. But McCarthy didn’t look under pressure, he took to the Everton midfield like the proverbial fish to water and started to prove his worth during the early months of the current campaign.
Since then, McCarthy has only improved and I have lost count of the amount of times he could have been awarded man of the match for Martinez’ side. He has blossomed next to Gareth Barry – who himself has been outstanding – and the two have formed a formidable pairing at the heart of the Toffees midfield. They compliment each other; one bases his game around taking the ball and keeping things ticking and uses his experience and knowledge to outfox his opposing midfielders, whilst the other, is an all-action, tough tackling, unsung hero who adds much-needed bite to the spine of our side. You can make your own mind up yourself which is which but overall their combination this season has been nothing short of superb. That’s why Roberto brought them in, because he knew they’d play well together, he knew they would form that partnership. The old cliché ‘the perfect mix of youth and experience’ – well in McCarthy and Barry, we have this and much, much more. I can only hope the latter stays on at Everton and signs a permanent deal at Goodison Park because even though he is ten years McCarthy’s senior, it is obvious that he can still perform at the highest level and is even being linked with a return to international duty for England.
Opinion will probably be split between those two aforementioned players as to who deserves the award for Player of the Season, but for me McCarthy just shades it. He came with a weight on his shoulders – not only because of the price tag but because it was a new era at the Club, and Evertonians had put up with some average midfielders in recent times. We needed a young, hungry, talented midfielder at our club and had previously been heavily linked with Leroy Fer. That move hadn’t come off and the likes of *winces* Phil Neville and Thomas Hitzlsperger had departed Goodison Park. Fellaini was tried and tested in numerous positions and he too was on his way out of the Club to United, whilst Darron Gibson was/is continuing to suffer badly with injuries – we couldn’t really rely on him.
Questions would be asked of Martinez, our current, and his new players from the off – and they was. We drew three on the bounce at the beginning of the season but look what has happened since. The incoming players soon settled and the spine of our team was formed, add to that the flair players we now have and the goals within our side. The young talent players and the more senior players – all still performing admirably – at the Club began to gel again and the Martinez vision was soon implemented. We already had creative midfielders at the Club in Mirallas, Barkley, Osman and Pienaar, so putting McCarthy and Barry behind them has turned out to be a masterstroke by Martinez and long may it continue. If you form a consistent, solid spine to your team (which we have in Howard, Jags/Distin or even Stones and ahead of them Barry and McCarthy) then you only have to add to the quality around those players. That is why RM is chopping and changing now, our opposing players in new positions, our more creative, flexible personnel being deployed around the team – but throughout all of this keeping that core of your side in place. It makes for consistency, it forms partnerships and under Roberto Martinez this season James McCarthy, and a number of other players in his squad, have more than proved their worth to this Football Club.
It has been a fantastic campaign and each and every one of them deserves praise for playing their respective roles in what could still turn out to be a historic campaign for the Blues. Just like the win against Arsenal recently it was a collective effort and although I am singling players out for praise here today, it has been a team, squad, manager, staff and supporter effort that has guided us through this season and as one we are all working together for a better Everton. We now face six fixtures that will define where we finish in Martinez’ first season as our manager but overall as I have previously written throughout the campaign – the signs are great for our future regardless of our position come mid May. Most of us have bought into the Martinez ideology and it is something as a supporter that you just cannot ignore, you feel the need to talk, write and shout about what is happening at this fantastic Club we all adore.
McCarthy is one player to emerge from this campaign with his name in lights and if I had to pick a Player of the Season it would be him. In McCarthy I think we have a player with the qualities to be a future captain and to see him flourish in this Everton side has been a joy to watch. He like all of his team mates deserve the plaudits for what they have done throughout this season and I truly feel that this season is the start of something massive for us. Let’s hope we can finish strongly and prove to everyone that Everton really are back, and back for good.
All that we are missing now is a James McCarthy last-minute winner in one of our remaining fixtures to seal our place in the Champions League!
I suppose we can dream – but under this manager and with this group of players, it is very hard not to…
COME ON YOU BLUES