Everton's Ronald Koeman donned a pair of glasses to read out a prepared statement criticising James McCarthy and Martin O'NeillWhen James McCarthy withdrew from the warm-up of Ireland’s clash with Wales, he increased the likelihood of his Everton exit tenfold. He also reignited the vociferous club versus country debate about his fitness. Ronald Koeman deemed it befitting of spectacles, Martin O’Neill felt it required a Friday night statement. Let’s examine the terms of this increasingly daft debate.

During his pre-Merseyside derby press conference, Koeman explained his displeasure at McCarthy’s latest setback. After just one start in 2017 and three weeks out, he believed “one full week of training sessions” was required. McCarthy trained just twice before mistakenly declaring himself fit. It’s not unreasonable for O’Neil to think he had recovered from a hamstring strain, nor is wanting Ireland’s best players available for their nine or so games per year, but this is not an isolated incident.

In October, McCarthy completed 171 minutes against Georgia and Moldova despite missing six weeks for Everton with a groin strain. Back at Finch Farm, he was described as “massively overloaded” by the club’s medical team. “You’re killing the player!”, said Koeman unequivocally. A week later, McCarthy broke down again. Despite not appearing for Everton for a month, he was then called up to face Austria before O’Neill decided, to Roy Keane’s dismay, to avoid risking him.

The Irish camp was having none of Koeman’s suggestions. “I totally refute that“, responded O’Neill. “James had declared himself fit”. That’s just not good enough though, is it? McCarthy has a well-established tendency to overestimate his fitness with a national game looming. He regularly gets that call wrong. O’Neill is exploiting McCarthy’s patriotism and reneging on a duty of care by leaving the decision in the player’s hands.

James McCarthy stretches in the warm-up for Ireland's World Cup qualifier with Wales before limping off.

O’Neill and Keane’s comments have often been antagonistic. Koeman has been mocked for “bleating about” McCarthy’s injury, his claims dismissed as “absolute nonsense” and “total rubbish”. Keane referenced the club’s trophy drought. Koeman has responded angrily from time to time, he has criticised O’Neill but he has avoided petty personal insults. His tone has been markedly more serious.

Take for instance O’Neill labelling Koeman “the master tactician of the blame game” in his Friday night statement. Or the suggestion that Everton’s pre-season, now six months ago, would “provide some enlightenment”. Well let’s see. After Ireland’s last Euro 2016 match on June 26, O’Neill believes McCarthy returned to Everton after a very short break “but only 11 days later, he played his first of three games, all within an eight day period”. With clear enjoyment but total naivety, he ended the recollection: “Overload?”

Everton faced Real Betis on July 30. That’s 34 days after Ireland lost to France, not 11. If “only 11 days later” referred to the time after McCarthy’s “very short break”, that’d be a 23-day break. McCarthy did start three games in eight days but look at how they were handled. 60 minutes against Real Betis, 66 minutes five days later at Man Utd, and 65 minutes three days on against Espanyol. Koeman also left McCarthy as unused sub for the first game of the tour. That seems pretty low-risk and reasonable to me.

In total, that’s 191 minutes of pre-season action in eight days with an extra day’s rest allowed. When O’Neill selected McCarthy against Georgia and Moldova, he put him through 171 minutes in four days. Overload? This surely what O’Neill is unwittingly suggesting here. And he’d be correct. After that, McCarthy got through 40 more minutes for Everton before aggravating his hamstring again.

Koeman has not made excessive or insensitive demands of McCarthy, he has merely asked him to prove his fitness. Anyone who has watched Everton regularly over the last two years will tell you this simply hasn’t happened. However, that has not proved a deterrent for O’Neill. He has continued to select him regardless, exhibiting carelessness where caution is required.

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane share a joke during Ireland training.

Everton’s fitness tests have repeatedly shown McCarthy to be unfit at times when he has been passed for Ireland. What does it say about the Irish setup as a whole to repeatedly put a player at risk in such reckless fashion? Isn’t this a bit amateur? Isn’t this the sort of thing Keane walked out of a World Cup in protest? Are we to presume he’s suddenly in favour of such shoddiness now he’s swapped sides?

O’Neill can release all the smarmy statements he likes, Keane can continue to hypocritically question players’ loyalty. Soon however they need to stop overburdening and exploiting McCarthy, and to start adapting to his needs. It is the Irish camp, not Everton that would be served better by “quiet introspection“, with emphasis on the quiet.
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Click here to read ‘Everton’s winless run at Anfield goes on as Koeman gets it wrong’
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789

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  • oliver hayward

    Bang on. I cant stand international football as all it seems to do is injure, tire players out or upset players due to vilification by the appalling football media and fickle national football team fans.

    It seems like many of the national teams physios and management don’t do their job properly (or just don’t care), although McCarthy has to take a large slice of the blame here. If he wants to be played by Koeman then he has to act like a professional and his first duty is to his club. I would not be adverse to him being sold TBH.

    • cdsmith789

      McCarthy was my favourite player for his first few years. I also felt sorry for him with his injury trouble and thought he got some unfair stick. But he’s used up all good will, so like you, I’d happily see him sold. His injuries and attitude can’t be accommodated, and we have to be honest, he’s a very limited player. We can do better this summer, I’m sure we will.

      • oliver hayward

        Yeah, during his first season at Everton he was outstanding, not sure what went wrong with him. Could of used the old McCarthy after today’s capitulation!