Had things worked out differently, James McCarthy might have been wearing a white shirt rather than the royal blue of Everton at White Hart Lane this afternoon. The Republic of Ireland midfielder was a player on Tottenham Hotspur's radar long before Wigan Athletic's relegation sparked interest from a cluster of clubs last summer, yet McCarthy's heart was set on a reunion with his mentor, Roberto Martinez, at Everton.
"The gaffer was a big factor," he said. "He rang my agent and said he wanted to get a deal done. My agent was speaking to different clubs but once I heard that, there was no going back. I wanted to go to Everton and was just delighted to have got here in the last 10 minutes [of the transfer window]. I don't think you realise how big the club is until you are here, and how good the fans are."
The presence of Seamus Coleman, his room-mate with Ireland, was another factor. "He spoke so highly of them and anything he has said about the club is not wrong," McCarthy added. "It's a great bunch of boys. There was a lot of talk in the summer, but with the way things have worked out, I'm really happy."
The Scottish-born McCarthy had been less convinced the first time he signed for Martinez, aged 18 in July 2009, when joining Wigan from Hamilton Academical. He came south reluctantly after the breakdown of a move to Celtic, choosing Wigan ahead of Wolves for the town's closer proximity to Hadrian's Wall. "I didn't want to move away from home, but the way things worked out I made the right choice."
He has chosen well this time too, immediately gelling in midfield with Gareth Barry following his £13 million transfer from Wigan and catching the eye with a tactical awareness and maturity belying his 23 years. This was underlined by his effortless switch to a right-back role during last week's 2-1 win over Aston Villa – a vital victory for fifth-placed Everton given the crushing 4-0 defeat at Liverpool that had preceded it.
"[Martinez] said his piece after that game and made us all aware how upset he was," McCarthy said. "All of us knew how much we had let the club down. We want to show it was a blip." Today's trip to Tottenham, another side with Champions' League ambitions, is the perfect opportunity to prove just that.
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