James McCarthy's Celtic future isn't looking great

By Dave Flanigan

July 21, 2022

Celtic almost certainly rounded off their midfield options for the foreseeable on Tuesday with the signing of Australia internationalist Aaron Mooy.

The former St Mirren midfielder put pen to paper on a two-year deal to reunite with his former national team manager Ange Postecoglou.

The move was welcomed by current Socceroos boss Graham Arnold, with Mooy now likely to see playing time ahead of the Qatar World Cup later this year.

Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images

However, one player who could find more game time difficult because of the Aussie’s arrival is James McCarthy.

The former Hamilton midfielder ended years of speculation linking him with Celtic and finally moved back to Scotland from Crystal Palace last summer, but found opportunities limited, even with Celtic’s lack of midfield depth in the first half of the season.

The former Ireland international made only six starts and 16 substitute appearances, rarely if ever looking capable of deputising for Callum McGregor when called upon.

With his mobility now clearly restricted following successive injuries whilst a Premier League player, Mooy’s signing means that McCarthy’s time as a first-team player at Celtic is now surely even more limited.

The Irishman was well off the pace in yesterday’s friendly draw with Legia Warsaw to mark Hoops legend Artur Boruc’s retirement, and was perhaps lucky to avoid a sending-off for a couple of conspicuous challenges, capping off what has been a forgettable pre-season for McCarthy personally, whilst others in his position have excelled.

Always an awkward fit

McCarthy was highly sought after as a Hamilton player, signed by Wigan for £3m in 2009, and followed his then-manager Roberto Martinez to Everton in 2013.

His career peaked in the 2014-15 season when Everton fell just short of finishing 4th in the Premier League, their success built on the solid bedrock of McCarthy alongside Gareth Barry in a double pivot at the base of midfield.

Successive niggling injuries hindered the Irishman’s time on Merseyside from then on before a broken leg sustained in January 2018 effectively ending his Everton career. His time at Crystal Palace was similarly blighted with time on the treatment table.

Another early knock set back his Celtic career early on, but in truth, it’s unlikely that McCarthy would ever have made it as the deepest midfielder in Postecoglou’s side.

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With neither first-choice centre-half nor goalkeeper excelling at passing out, Celtic’s “6” must be hyper-mobile, always available and looking for the ball during the build-up, with the ability to either move or carry it upfield at pace.

The 31-year-old, sadly, can do none of the above, and his signing looks to be more of a case of a player being available in a position lacking cover than one with any coherent strategy backing it up.

It’s unlikely that Celtic will be able to sell him before the conclusion of this transfer window, either. His contract runs for almost another three years, and his injury history makes him a risky buy.

Whilst it’s not a conclusion anyone would have wished for the boyhood Celtic fan, James McCarthy looks to be one of the rare transfer blunders of the Postecoglou era thus far.

In other news: Celtic defender seeing pre-season progress that could culminate in bad day for Norwich.