Jamie Carragher, a childhood Everton supporter turned Liverpool legend, says that the one player currently in blue he’d love to see playing in red is Irish international James McCarthy.
And Carragher recalls catching a glimpse of a then 16-year-old McCarthy, down from Hamilton, training at Liverpool at a time when the club were contemplating bringing him to Anfield.
Now, needless to say, he would cost a wee bit more.
“I love McCarthy, I think he’s a brilliant player,” says the Sky Sports analyst.
“If there was one player I could take from Everton to Liverpool, it would be James McCarthy. I think he’s just got to add goals. Jordan Henderson was maybe at that stage a year ago, where you really like what you see but there could be a few more goals or assists to take him up another level.
"Even though James McCarthy plays a more defensive role, he’s shown he can get forward. He’s a complete midfield player — he works hard, he can tackle, he can pass. I think eventually he’ll be the captain there.”
Notwithstanding Everton’s dismal Europa League exit, Carragher — who was speaking in advance of that game — is convinced that, just in time for the visit of Poland to Dublin, McCarthy is back to full fitness after recurring injury problems. And he reveals that his exceptional regard for the player is shared by the Everton manager.
“I spoke to Roberto Martinez about two months ago about the bad run they were having and he said ‘there’s only one player we can’t replace in the squad and that’s James McCarthy’. No other player in the squad gives them what he gives them.
"And I’ve highlighted him plenty of times on ‘Monday Night Football’, the work he does and the cover he gives Seamus Coleman. Coleman likes to bomb forward and, through the work McCarthy does for him getting back, he allows that. And I’m sure that’s something they want to do in the Ireland team as well.”
But do his defensive duties perhaps account for his lack of goals? “I think there might be a little bit in that. I think him and Gareth Barry do so much work for the full-backs — Leighton Baines on one side, Coleman on the other.
They’re always filling in when they go forward. So James McCarthy spends half his time at right-back when I watch Everton. And that’s not a criticism, I think that’s a tactical thing from Roberto Martinez.
“I love McCarthy as a player, love watching him, but I think to be classed as one of the best in the league he probably needs to add a few more goals and assists to his game. But that may come with maybe being a bit more adventurous if Roberto Martinez allows or wants that.”
Carragher may have hung up his boots but he’ll renew an old rivalry with Gary Neville on Sky Sports when Liverpool and Manchester United clash tomorrow.
“Yeah, we both pretend to be impartial and try and give a balanced view but we’ll both be as partisan as ever,” he chuckles.
Which United player used to wind him up the most? “Gary Neville. Who’d ya think? Nah, there’s a rivalry with Man United, yes, but there should be a respect there as well.
“For what they’ve achieved as players, as a club. Same for us.”
Previewing tomorrow’s game, Carragher reckons it will be a surprise if his old mate Steven Gerrard is on from the start.
“Liverpool have been on a good run, and he’s only played 20 minutes of football in four or five weeks,” he points out. “He’s 34. If it was against someone else, I think we’d all expect Stevie to be on the bench.
"But, of course, it’s his last one against United, you want to be involved and his record against them is fantastic, in terms of goals. But he can still have an impact. Brendan Rodgers might start him, I don’t know. But just think: who do you leave out if Stevie does start? Because you couldn’t leave Henderson or Allen out.”
Indeed, when it comes to his punditry, Carragher says he simply can’t afford to let his heart rule his head.
“Stevie Gerrard, I’m really close to him but if you ask me if he should play on Sunday, I’d say no. I have to do my job well. He knows the job. I praise him to the high heavens, not because he’s my mate but because he’s the best player I’ve ever played with and one of the greatest players in the Premier League.
"And he’s still an unbelievable player now. He can still do things that other players can’t. Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen should be playing ahead of him — but they couldn’t get that free kick against Everton.”
* Jamie Carragher was in Dublin to promote Carlsberg’s ‘Join The Greats’ campaign which offers Irish fans a chance to play at Anfield among other prizes. See Carlsberg’s Facebook page for details.
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