Chelsea and Arsenal considering summer transfer swoop for Wigan midfielder James McCarthy

Youngster has held Wigan's midfield together during another turbulent season to the extent that some of the league's leading clubs are interested

Such has been James McCarthy's form this season – for a faltering and once again belatedly awakened Wigan Athletic – both Chelsea and Arsenal are considering a summer move for the midfielder.

The 22-year-old is currently trying to direct yet another escape from relegation, in which victory on Tuesday night against Swansea City would be crucial. His bravery, skill and vision in three consecutive relegation battles have been noticed and whether Wigan survive or finally drop, there is certain to be a fight for his signature this summer.

McCarthy, yet again one of Wigan's most impressive and consistent performers in a turbulent season, is thought to be open to the possibility of a summer move for the sake of his career, but is not necessarily desperate to leave yet. Should Wigan go down, though, it is implausible that he should play Championship football next season.

There are few midfields in the country that would not be improved by the Republic of Ireland international. In an age of specialists he is a genuine all-rounder, who would add authority where it is lacking at Stamford Bridge and bite where it is missed at the Emirates. He may even prefer a less high-profile club, in the interests of playing more games, as he did in choosing to sign for Wigan in 2009.

But there is a sense that, after four years at the DW Stadium, now might be the time to take the next step and move up, especially given the climactic finish Wigan have this season, with their crucial game tonight, their FA Cup final against Manchester City on Saturday and then league games against Arsenal and Aston Villa left to save themselves.

Those who know McCarthy well feel this too. Billy Reid, who gave McCarthy his Hamilton Academical debut at the age of just 15, told The Independent McCarthy can go on to a team at the opposite end of the table. "I still don't think he's realised his potential yet," Reid said, "that's no disrespect to Wigan, I think he can go and play for one of the top teams in England."

The former Republic of Ireland international Ray Houghton, an old friend of McCarthy's family, also from the Castlemilk district of Glasgow, agrees. "He's at a good age now," he told The Independent, "he's probably at a stage now where he might need to move on to improve."

The impressive thing is just how much McCarthy has improved already. He has grown, under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez, into a remarkably complete midfielder. Martinez insists on a very high technical and tactical level from his players, but McCarthy has the brain as well as the touch required to run their midfield.

McCarthy is beautifully balanced, able to pass incisively with either foot and seemingly able to see through the holes of his ears. He is also a ferocious worker, able to call every part of the pitch his own, and a great tracker and marker, as he showed against Tottenham's Gareth Bale last week.

That talent has never been in doubt. It is the growth of McCarthy's confidence and assurance that has made the difference. "James has good qualities," the Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, memorably said earlier this season, "but I have told him 'I will punch you if you don't stop being shy.'" McCarthy has just broken into the Republic of Ireland side but could bring their midfield a nuance they have desperately lacked recently.

It has been a long journey for McCarthy already. He had brief unsuccessful spells as a boy at Celtic and Livingston but was back playing boys' club football at 14 before Hamilton's scouts first saw him.

"When I watched him for the first time I couldn't believe what I'd seen," Reid, then Hamilton manager, remembered. "He just had everything: he had balance, two-footed, he could cover the ground, he was a winner. I asked to speak to his mother and father straight away, we asked to get him off school and get him into training, and the rest is history."

Reid gave McCarthy his Hamilton debut at 15, against Queen of the South in the Scottish First Division. In his second season Hamilton won the title and were promoted; in his next, in the Scottish Premier League, he won Young Player of the Year.

"He never missed a minute for me," Reid said. "He played every game. I used think about moving him about but you couldn't leave him out of the team, all the way through from 15. He was so good at that level. He was just a model of consistency."

Those performances were soon noticed by big clubs in Scotland and England. But a teenage McCarthy rejected moves to Celtic, Liverpool and Reading to continue his development at Hamilton. Eventually he moved, in 2009, to Wigan Athletic, in Martinez's first summer in charge. Martinez's assistant, Graeme Jones, used to work at Hamilton.

The move to Wigan was difficult at first, and the 18-year-old McCarthy struggled on debut, in a 4-1 Carling Cup defeat at Blackpool. He was given a few months out of the team to develop, then Martinez brought him back in January 2010 and he has played fairly consistently since, taking on more and more responsibility to the point where few midfielders in the country carry as much on their shoulders.

Liverpool have since tried again to tempt him from Wigan, but again he stayed. Scouts from a host of Premier League clubs are routinely at the DW Stadium, looking at the quiet young man in the middle of midfield. He has other immediate concerns, but the attention will not go away.

Wigan wizard: McCcarthy facts

19: Age at which McCarthy made his Republic of Ireland debut against Brazil in February 2010

87.7 per cent Pass completion rate in the Premier League this season

£10,700: Cost per league game to Wigan, having made 112 appearances since his £1.2m move from Hamilton

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks