JAMES McCarthy can make his presence felt among the big boys at next summer’s European Championships, according to Roberto Martinez.
The 21-year-old midfielder will be Wigan’s sole representative at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine after Ireland drew 1-1 against Estonia in Dublin last night to go through 5-1 on aggregate.
McCarthy has endured a stop-start campaign at club level, although it’s a sign of his standing with Ireland chief Giovanni Trapattoni that he has retained his place in the Ireland squad.
And his club boss is in no doubt that the player can rise to the occasion against the likes of Spain, Italy, Germany and England if given the chance.
“When any of our players go away with their countries for international duty, it makes them better players, better individuals,” Martinez told the Evening Post.
“Any experience of major tournament football brings them on even more, and I expect that to be the case with James next summer.
“To be involved with a senior squad at the age of just 21 is a phenomenal achievement, and to sample a major finals would be a unique opportunity to move on to the next level.”
The European Championships of 2004 saw England’s Wayne Rooney introduce himself with a bang before injury curtailed his tournament.
And, while not wanting to burden McCarthy with too much expectation, Martinez believes the former Hamilton man is also capable of having a big impact.
“A lot of players find it difficult to perform on the big stage, they become a little bit emotional which takes away some of the energy from their game,” Martinez added.
“But in James’ case, the bigger the occasion, the bigger the performance, and I’m looking forward to watching him rub shoulders with the best in Europe.
“As a player, technically and tactically, he is gifted and it’s hard to explain how a player who’s just turned 21 can have those levels.
“In addition to that, the maturity and the mental composure he has will allow him to perform in a big tournament.”
After being one of the first names on the Wigan team sheet since coming in to the side midway through the 2009-10 season, McCarthy has found himself on the outside in recent weeks due to injury and a loss of form.
Martinez, though, believes McCarthy is a classic example of the cliche: Form is temporary, class is permanent.
“James’ situation this season has probably been down to a combination of factors,” the Spaniard acknowledged.
“The injury he picked up against Villarreal had an effect on his pre-season training programme, so his physical levels were behind where they should have been.
“He had another soft-tissue problem just before the Newcastle game which didn’t help, but he is near to returning to full fitness.
“This season has been a little bit stop-start for him, and to have the carrot of the European Championships to look forward to could give him that feel-good factor to enjoy his football.
“I would say he’ll be back to his best for the Christmas period.
“He’s now got a real strong three months ahead of him, before the pre-Euros friendlies come around, and he has to make the most of that.”
l Ex-Latics striker Stuart Barlow is the new assistant manager at non-league Colwyn Bay.