The rumour seemed to surface every couple of transfer windows without ever really nearing, or crossing, the done deal threshold but now, in 2021 and 12 years after he left Hamilton Accies for Wigan Athletic, James McCarthy is back in Scottish football and at the club he supported as a boy.

The central midfielder's Crystal Palace contract ran out at the end of last season and he has now signed a four-year deal in Parkhead.

The Republic of Ireland international has suffered a number of fairly serious injuries throughout his career, none more so than a leg fracture that kept him out for the entirety of 2018 while an Everton player.

His hamstrings have caused a sincere amount of grief during his career in England too, with his season significantly disrupted on six occasions due to problems stemming from that part of his anatomy.

After moving on to Crystal Palace in the summer of 2019 he played all but five of their EPL games in his debut season but last year was limited to just 10 starts as Roy Hodgson preferred James' old pal and namesake McArthur or Jairo Riedewald as Luka Milivojevic's central partners.

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It doesn't exactly warrant a double-take, but you could be forgiven for being mildly shocked McCarthy is in the first year of his thirties. The offer of a four-year contract is perhaps more of a surprise given his injury issues rather than his age.

With McCarthy’s name consistently being churned through the rumour mill under previous regimes, asking how he fits into a new manager's system or if this might be a lazy signing on an adjacent level with Shane Duffy is a legitimate question.

A holding midfielder, his first job is to protect those around and behind him, which he did well for Palace last season by winning nearly two-thirds of his defensive duels, placing him just outside the top 50 in the league and one place behind Man City’s Rodri Hernandez for how many he won per 90 minutes.

Celtic Way: James McCarthy's recovery stats are impressiveJames McCarthy's recovery stats are impressive

Progressive runs, shots, assists, crosses… these are things he can cross off or remove from his CV as any potential employer shouldn’t be interested in hiring him to do those jobs, but in an Ange Postecoglou Celtic team with demands on high intensity, movement and pressing, it's those latter aspects are what should catch an interested party’s eye.

McCarthy’s recoveries last season put him pretty high in the list of the league’s most productive midfielders in that sense, not far behind James Milner and Ruben Neves with an average of more than eight times a game.

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Even more impressively, his counter-pressing recoveries – which means regaining possession in the immediate aftermath of his team surrendering it – puts him just outside the top dozen for the EPL’s midfielders and just behind Liverpool pair Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, and more than Ngolo Kante(!) - with more than five of those a game.

During the last campaign, he recovered the ball more during counter-presses in the oppositions third, rather than his own, so despite injury issues, he still carries the ability and fitness to get around a football pitch.

All this bodes pretty well for the job description of a Celtic midfielder under the new boss.

Celtic Way: He's still able to get around the park well to win the ball back for his teamHe's still able to get around the park well to win the ball back for his team

Scott Brown’s departure from Celtic left the squad fairly light in holding midfield regard, with Ismaila Soro pretty much having a clear run at making the jersey his own while Luca Connell watches on from afar.

The signing of McCarthy, who has 42 ROI caps in his loft, changes that and adds starting quality rather than just an extra body.

Can that body stay in one piece for the next few years, is the major question.

If so, Celtic may just have done a shrewd bit of business for a player now realising a childhood dream.