James McCarthy's growing reputation as the best teenage player in Britain received another huge endorsement this week when he picked up the SPL's Young Player of the Year award.
The hottest midfield prospect around has earned huge plaudits this season with the maturity of his performances in a team that have flirted with relegation this season.
With McCarthy in the engine room, the Accies have given some of the established teams in the SPL a real run for their money this season. From a personal point of view, McCarthy has had a massively successful season, with 33 appearances and six goals, the Irish U-21 international has caught many eyes.
In recent times the youngster—who was born in Scotland, but who chose to play for Ireland due to his heritage—has come in for much abuse from opposing fans, who deem him a traitor. But probably the most unsettling aspect in the abuse that James has had to endure is that papers such as the Daily Record have also waded in against him.
Fans from club like Motherwell, Dundee United, and Rangers in particular have reserved special abuse for the youth. Songs like the infamous "Famine Song" have been directed at the player, and as a result the FAI have met with the SFA to discuss this particular song.
He made his debut for Hamilton when he was 15, and at the age of 16 had established himself as a fixture in their promotion winning team. Now at 18 he has played 94 games for the Accies scoring 15 goal,s so you can appreciate that James is somewhat of a prodigy.
He is blessed with strength and power and has a tireless engine. He is a very simple passer of the ball and has found the net on no less than eight occasions. At this stage of his career he is usually compared with Roy Keane or Steven Gerrard.
Indeed, Liverpool had pinpointed the youth as a potential successor to their attacking midfield general as early as 2007, when they approached Hamilton with a bid believed to have been in around the £1m mark.
And it's not only Liverpool who have stood up and taken notice of the teenage prodigy. Clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Deportivo La Coruna, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid have all sent scouts to check out the player who is deemed as one of the best prospects in Europe.
It is most probably this potential added to the fact that James has declared for Ireland that has singled him out for some sickening abuse during certain matches. But the youth has shown an incredible maturity, and has dealt with the verbal attacks with great skill.
McCarthy's grandfather is from Donegal, and it is through his ancestry that he has been able to declare for Ireland. James' grandfather left Ireland in the '30s in search of work. That search eventually brought him to Castlemilk, Glasgow—an Irish enclave in Scotland.
Indeed another famous Glaswegian, Ray Houghton, was also from the same area and he too declared for Ireland. The people of Castlemilk consider themselves Irish and have celebrated everything Irish since the corporation estate was established.
At underage football James' talents began to show and he was left out of many Scottish squads while the SFA selectors dithered over whether he was good enough. But a chance meeting with Irish underage manager Sean McCaffrey would bring McCarthy's talents to the FAI.
A phone-call and a plane flight later McCaffrey found himself sitting in a living room in Castlemilk and the rest is history. Since then James has played at U-17, U-18, U-19, and U-21 level for Ireland, and is widely predicted to be part of Giovanni Trappatoni's future squad as Ireland strive to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Billy Reid has had a massive influence on his young star, and with some sage guidance he has helped make McCarthy the player and more importantly the person he is today. And with the SPL being a notoriously tough physical league, he felt that one more season with the Accies would be best for James' development as a player.
No sooner had James picked up the young player award, when Portsmouth launched an audacious bid to bring the player to the Premiership. The formal bid was for £500,000 and was turned down without a thought. Hamilton did after all turn down £1m from Liverpool two seasons ago...
The Accies Chairman, Ronnie McDonald also confirmed that the club turned a bid for James down in January, but the club in question asked not to be named.
"There have been other offers for him but he is still young," McDonald said.
"We really look after the young boys here and, while we will be delighted to see them moving on when the time is right, we would like to have an input in progressing them to the right club for them when they do go."
While MacDonald would not confirm the fee offered by the English Premier League side, he said: "If Aaron Ramsey went to Arsenal from Cardiff for £5m, then who knows what James might be worth.
"He is the outstanding player of his generation."
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