The ongoing row between Everton and the Republic of Ireland over Martin O'Neill's decision to call-up James McCarthy for next weekend's 2018 Group D World Cup qualifying meeting with Austria continues to escalate, with an irate Ronald Koeman reiterating that his player is simply not fit enough.
O'Neill yesterday accused his Toffees counterpart of "bleating" after the former named McCarthy in a provisional 35-man squad for that trip to the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna. Koeman previously claimed that Ireland "massively overloaded" the midfielder after he started two qualifiers against Georgia and Moldova in the space of only four days despite having missed nearly six weeks after undergoing groin surgery in September.
O'Neill "totally refutes" that suggestion, insisting that McCarthy declared himself fit and that his late substitution in Chisinau was due to tiredness rather than any setback.
He also claimed that the 25-year-old trained with Everton on the same day that Koeman hit out regarding his treatment, although conceded that at this moment he is considered doubtful for Austria due to a torn hamstring sustained during a second-half cameo against Manchester City last month. That was his one and only outing since the last international break.
Responding to McCarthy's latest inclusion in a press conference held prior to the clash with Chelsea, Koeman told reporters: "The player is not fit. The player is not involved in team sessions. I think to have a call-up you need to be close to being fit. It's a little bit of the same story with what happened last time. We spoke to James. My advice to James is stay here and do training and be fit as soon as possible. But the final decision is by the player."
When asked if he had any contact with O'Neill over the incendiary issue, he added: "No. It's not necessary because we have contact between the medical staff. And if the managers don't take the right decision, maybe he can take the good advice of the medical staff."
Koeman is evidently keen to end the public war of words between himself and the typically forthright O'Neill. "I talk about him, he's talking about me," he said. "Let's stop."
While McCarthy will not play at Stamford Bridge, Everton are set to be boosted by the return of first-choice goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg after a foot problem kept him out of last Sunday's 2-0 win over West Ham. However, experienced left-back Leighton Baines remains sidelined with a hamstring injury and influential midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye is suspended after receiving his fifth booking of the season. Striker Arouna Kone is not yet ready to feature after a knee issue.
"Maarten Stekelenburg is back," Koeman said. "He did the normal week's sessions. He's ready and he's fit to play. Baines is not. He's close to being back, but we don't take any risk because after the weekend we have the international break. Normally, if everything goes well, he will be back after the international break."
On Kone, he said: "He did a team session today and is back in training but is not fit for being named in the squad for the weekend."