James McCarthy joined his boyhood club, Celtic, at the beginning of the 2021/22 season. McCarthy spent the previous two seasons under Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace.

This resurgence in form had seen him return to the Irish fold for the first time since Euro 2016.

Since his move to Celtic, however, McCarthy struggled to nail down a place in the starting XI. In recent weeks, he struggles to be on the team sheet on matchday. McCarthy featured as a substitute in four games during the middle of October. However, he failed to make an appearance off the bench against both Shakhtar Donetsk and Hearts. Still, before then, he played a huge part in Celtic’s eventual winner against St. Johnstone.

The midfielder is approaching 32 years old. Game time is dwindling, as is his playing career.

Less playing time

The reason for McCarthy desiring the move to Celtic are obvious. He grew up a Celtic fan and is from Glasgow. He had trained with Celtic as a youth and played a couple of games here and there. James McCarthy mentioned that during his debut press conference with Celtic. Celtic fans found humor in that given his vocal similarity to former Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers.

Upon arrival, McCarthy directly competed against Calum McGregor for playing time. These two differ in many ways. Yet, it is clear to see why Ange prefers McGregor in that role.

The injury records of both players are key here. Despite picking up a knee injury in the champions league, McGregor has been available for selection for club and country on a regular basis. McGregor played 30 league games or more in every season going back to 2015-16. Then, he played just 27. McCarthy reached that mark just once since 2013/14.

McCarthy’s injuries over the last years include a double leg break in 2018. Unsurprisingly, this seriously hampers his mobility, something absolutely key in the Celtic midfield. Ange’s mantra ‘we never stop’ is something that is evident in the Celtic midfield in every game. The high intensity football no longer suits McCarthy. Instead, he more suits the style of play found on the other side of the city.

McCarthy is a similar player to Steven Davis and John Lundstram. Both players performed well under Giovanni Van Bronkhorst in the past year. That is particularly true in European competition.

James McCarthy finds competition at Celtic

Since signing for Celtic, the club have gone onto sign Matt O’Riley, Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Aaron Mooy, all in similar positions to McCarthy’s. These signings demonstrate the lack of faith in his ability. Also, these arrivals back up the argument that the Irishman was never an Ange Postecoglou signing.

Ideguchi barely featured since signing for the club, despite clearly being a Postecoglou signing. The levels that need to be hit to play in the current Celtic midfield are extremely high. Right now, neither Ideguchi nor McCarthy hit those levels. His cameo against St. Johnstone demonstrated that he still holds the quality to play at a high level, but these examples of quality have been far too infrequent.

During the most recent summer transfer window, there was speculation of a loan move to the English Championship. Both Sunderland and Stoke surfaced as possible destinations for the midfielder. Both failed to materialize.

McCarthy is reportedly on a handsome wage and long-term contract with the Scottish champions and perhaps this wage was unattractive for potential suitors but with his experience and undoubted quality, surely, he would’ve been worth a punt for one of the sides mentioned above. Either of these moves would have also caught the eye of Irish boss Stephen Kenny who is crying out for a midfielder of McCarthy’s calibre right now.

At the moment, there are no Irish midfielders playing at a level higher than the championship. Jayson Molumby (West Brom), Josh Cullen (Burnley), and Jeff Hendrick (Reading- on loan from Newcastle) are all plying their trade in the championship, with Jason Knight and Conor Hourihane both at Derby in League one.

McCarthy and the Ireland National Team

So, if McCarthy was also playing at that level he would be, without doubt, be in Kenny’s plans. If the wages were a stumbling block on the behalf of McCarthy, then he only has himself to blame for the lack of football he is currently enduring at both international and club level.

A transfer or a loan move could still see McCarthy rejuvenate his career. He has an example to look at in his international teammate Robbie Brady. Brady had struggled for minutes towards the end of his spell at Burnley and also had a poor injury record, like McCarthy.

An unwise move to Bournemouth saw this bad luck continue for Brady, but his summer transfer to Preston has brought his club career back to life and seen him recalled to the Irish fold, even starting against Armenia in their final nations league game.

It is up to McCarthy now to seek a move away from Celtic Park. Football is a short career and McCarthy has already lost a lot of time due to injury, now that he is fit, he needs to play.