Billy Reid played the role of mentor as James McCarthy moved from boy to man.
The Brighton assistant boss admits it’s make-or-break time for his former protege.
And he has backed the Celtic midfielder to make fools of anyone who’s written him off.
Reid handed the 31-year-old a Hamilton debut at the age of just 15 and now a crossroads appears to be looming after a Premiership season in which he made only four starts.
Following a frustrating start to a four-year-deal as Ange Postecoglou’s first signing, McCarthy has yet to convince the Hoops fans he’s capable of holding down a midfield berth with the likes of Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi, and Matt O’Riley all vying for a spot.
The departures of Tom Rogic and Nir Bitton haven’t even opened an obvious first-team route for McCarthy.
But Reid is adamant the Republic of Ireland star will call on the same strength of character which carried him through his Accies auditions as a starry-eyed youth to reverse popular opinion.
He said: “James is in a position where he needs to prove himself all over again and show Celtic the player he can be.
“He’s been blighted by injuries in the latter part of his career but people forget that he had an incredible amount of senior appearances as a teenager and had huge demands placed on him.
“Those challenges were met head on and he not only showed his ability but also a huge character which he’ll need to call upon once again.
“But nobody needs to convince me he can still be a big success at Celtic.
“There will be some who have their doubts but if James can get minutes under his belt then I’d back him to make the cynics eat their words.
“Ange Postecoglou has a superb array of midfield players and it’s like anything in football, it’s all about proving that you deserve to play.
“That’s the test for James at Celtic and it’s a test he’ll already be aiming to rise to next season.
“I remember when we won the Championship at Hamilton and James was 16. The usual questions started about whether he could do it in the Premiership – James answered them by dominating the Young Player of the Year awards in Scotland.”
Reid believes McCarthy can look no further than the careers of West Ham’s Mark Noble and Celtic icon Scott Brown as examples of careers forged out of defiance against critics who were calling time far too soon.
He said: “There is a role for James at Celtic.
“He’s not the box-to-box player he was, he’s adapted to become a sitting midfielder where he can do the dirty side.
“Keeping it simple as a possession-based player, winning the ball back and being that central cog is what he’s so good at.
“There is stiff competition but it doesn’t matter what age you are, age is not a barrier.
“I look at Mark Noble who I saw when we played West Ham last week, he’s still at the top despite being 35 years old.
“Scott Brown was being written off every season after he turned 30 but look at the size of his character to show people they are wrong. He always came back stronger.
“Players are always being tested and this is another test for James. I’m just hoping that next season marks a positive turnaround for him as it’s probably fair to say that the last few years have not been where James wanted things to be.”
Reid insists there’s still plenty of time for McCarthy to make his dream move to Paradise a success.
He said: “James just needs to get himself into the physical condition where he can do himself justice at Celtic and this summer can be a huge one for him.
“He’s a player who needs a run of games and a good pre-season where he stays injury free and that’s something he’s not managed to achieve in the last few seasons.
“The last time we spoke was at an airport when we were both going through the departure gates and he’s a brilliant guy who deserves everything the game has given him.
“He knows better than anyone that he needs to get his game back on the go again.
“His decision to come home to Scotland after years down south was to be with his family again and getting the chance to move to his boyhood club.
“It should be a match made in heaven for him but his career had been a bit stop-start prior to that and was always going to be a factor in him getting up to speed.”