Before his completely justified sacking by Sunderland back in, oh, 2002 or whenever it was, Steve Bruce recruited a gem of a player for the club, almost as a parting gift. If only Bruce had possessed enough gumption to then give the £350k player, winger James McClean, some game time, he might still be in a job on Wearside. If Gareth Bale is valued by Spurs at £150m, then this boy is worth £50m. If Stewart Downing is worth £22m, then McClean is worth, well, £50m.
The young Irishman is undoubtedly the most exciting left winger to play in the red and white since Allan Johnston in 1999 (and he was right-footed). Impressed by McClean’s attitude in a reserve match (“all of a sudden there was this hungry kid, bursting a gut on a night when there were 70mph winds ruining the game”), Martin O’Neill took a punt on the 23-year-old and brought him on for the last 15 minutes of his first match in charge, at home against Blackburn Rovers.
If he can sustain his initial performance level, he should be a shoe-in for the Republic Of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad.
McClean changed the game completely. Every time the ball came to his feet, he attacked his full-back, peppering the Rovers defence with pacy, accurate crosses and helping turn a 0-1 scoreline into a 2-1 win. O’Neill and Sunderland haven’t really looked back since, with the winger notching two goals and a handful of assists in the eight games he’s been involved in.
His game is simple – get the ball, get as close to the bye-line as possible with it and get it into the box. Plus, he’s got that knack of not always needing to beat the defender before delivering the cross. Bizarrely, he’s almost like a super-fit 21st century version of John Robertson, O’Neill’s former Forest teammate and regular right hand man.
Of course, Sunderland are one of the form teams in the land right now and the real test for McClean will come when that form dries up and/or opposing teams work harder to nullify his threat. But if he can sustain his initial performance level, he should be a shoe-in for the Republic Of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad.
Not sure he’s done enough yet to warrant his own folk song mind you…
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