THERE will be a familiarity about the footballing assignments that lie ahead for James McArthur in the next four days.
They will engender respect rather than contempt, however. This afternoon, when the midfielder takes to the Wembley pitch for FA Cup winners Wigan in the Community Shield against English champions Manchester United, and again on Wednesday when Scotland face England, the 25-year-old will find himself in direct opposition to Michael Carrick. McArthur is relishing challenging himself against the player he cites as the stand-out of those he has encountered since moving down south from Hamilton in 2010.
“I admire him a lot. He is a brilliant player. He was my vote for player of the year last season, and that is with Gareth Bale and Suarez in there. I think the job he does for Manchester United is second to none,” says McArthur, who will now have to admire Carrick from afar with Wigan having dropped down to the Championship.
The Scot accepts that Carrick may have been more highly regarded by managers and coaches because of the quietly effective role he has tended to perform. That appreciation now, though, has a universality about it, McArthur believes, while the United man’s contributions are not devoid of what might be termed TV highlight moments.
“A lot of people are talking about how good a job he does. Towards the start at Man United people didn’t really rate him as highly as they do now. I think, if you are playing in the Man United side every single match, that says something about your ability as a player. He is one of many very good players for England. He might never seem flustered but he doesn’t always find the easy pass as well. He produces some great passes that not many people notice. They get players in behind, in between holes. His passing is really good and he breaks up play well.”
McArthur may be entitled to pinch himself that, by the middle of this week, he will have played at Wembley four times inside six months. Yet, he says he looked forward to last week’s Championship opener against Barnsley, the club’s first league game under Roberto Martinez’s replacement Owen Coyle, as much as a trip to the home of English football.
“As a kid you always want to play in the big matches and there is no rivalry like England for Scotland. It is a massive game for the country, the fans and the players. I have good memories of Wembley, obviously, and you can’t get better than two victories [a semi-final win over Millwall and the final victory against Manchester City]. It is good to go into the game with those behind you.”
And fellow Scotland international Shaun Maloney in front of him.
The playmaker was central to the Latics’ first major trophy win and, along with former Hamilton star James McCarthy – who played in the Republic of Ireland’s 1-1 friendly at Wembley in May – continues to be touted for potential moves before the transfer window closes in three weeks. McArthur adds: “We want to keep everyone but no-one would grudge Shaun or James moving. They could play at the top and, as friends, you would like to see them move but from a selfish point of view you would want them to stay.”