Lee Carsley says a fit and firing James McCarthy could prove to be a significant asset for Everton boss Sam Allardyce.
Forty-one cap Republic of Ireland international McCarthy ended a 10-month Premier League exile when he started the Toffees' game at Bournemouth on Saturday.
The 27-year-old appeared again in the New Year’s Day meeting with Manchester United and attracted glowing praise from Allardyce for a stirring performance from the bench.
McCarthy’s 2016/17 campaign was curtailed by a hamstring problem in March and the former Wigan Athletic player suffered a setback in his recovery during pre-season when he damaged a knee.
He came back to feature in the Blues’ Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea in October but following a characteristically energetic outing picked up another injury to his hamstring.
Allardyce is understandably taking a cautious approach with the player on his latest comeback – he withdrew McCarthy after 45 minutes at Bournemouth – but credited the Irishman with altering the narrative of the United game through his incessant chasing and appetite for the fight following his 62nd-minute introduction.
And Carsley, a similarly combative presence in Everton’s midfield for more than six years after signing for the Club from Blackburn Rovers in February 2002, insists an on-song McCarthy can be a pivotal figure in the Toffees’ engine room.
“James can be really valuable for Everton,” Carsley told evertonfc.com. “Two or three years ago there was talk of him being one of the top midfielders in the Premier League.
“He has had a lot of bad luck with injures during his Everton career. But if he is at 100 per cent Everton are a better team with him in it.
“It would be good to have him back, fit, playing and enjoying his football again.”
Carsley played 199 times for Everton and scored 13 goals – helping the Toffees to fourth, sixth and fifth-place finishes, and the last-16 of the 2007-08 UEFA Cup, during his time at Goodison Park – before leaving for hometown team Birmingham City in 2008.
He had a second stint with former club Coventry City before hanging up his boots in 2011 and launching a burgeoning coaching career.
Carsley is currently assistant to England Under-21 boss Aidy Boothroyd. On the domestic front he had a profitable spell in caretaker charge of Birmingham following Harry Redknapp’s exit as manager earlier this term – and enjoyed a similarly successful two-month period as boss of former club Brentford in 2015, when he won the Championship manager-of-the-month award for October of that year.
The 43-year-old was touted in some quarters for the permanent manager's job at Birmingham before Steve Cotterill was appointed to the post and named Carsley as his deputy.
And despite harbouring long-term ambitions to branch out on his own, Carsley – who won 39 Ireland caps and played for his country at the 2002 World Cup – insists he is not ready to be the main man, just yet.
“I enjoy management and it is something I will have a go at in the future – but I still think I have a lot of developing to do as a coach,” said Carsley
“It is not the kind of profession that has much longevity, if you are not good at what you do. It is important that when I do decide to jump in, I am fully ready for it.
“I am really happy doing what I am doing here, and working with the England Under-21s as well.”