Luke’s World: hailing James McClean, Sunderland, Irish Republic, signing of the season

James McClean by Jake

On Saturday, as we stuttered unconvincingly to 2-2 draw against relegation-haunted Bolton Wanderers, important eyes were focused on one man. The Irish team manager Giovanni Trapattoni is preparing to name his squad for Euro 2012 and was again having James McClean closely watched ahead of his final decision on whether to include him. Reports from Dublin quote the boss as saying our man’s chances are 90 to 99 per cent. And he scored a cracker against Bolton. Luke Harvey continues his personal reflection on the season just ending with an assessment of McClean’s impact at the SoL …

Five months ago Sunderland’s long standing left sided problems were more apparent than ever, James McClean was a little known winger plying his trade for the reserve side following his unheralded summer arrival from Derry City.

That this signing went under the radars of all but the most ardent Sunderland fans is no surprise; a player making the switch from the League of Ireland to the Premier League and not sinking is all but unheard of (is Luke right on that? Irish fans please advise – ed).

The fact he wasn’t featuring at all wouldn’t have been a shock to any of the fans, given the gulf in class between the two leagues.

Initially the signing seemed, if anything, something of a slap in the face to us fans, at least that’s how it felt to me; bringing in an unready and untested winger ahead of a proven talent didn’t seem too progressive given our obvious need for a left sided player. “One for the future,” claimed then manager Steve Bruce.

Jake's reason for looking forward to Euro 2012

What no one was prepared for was how quickly that future would become our present. The future for James McClean, as prophesised by Bruce, came to be with a new manager at the helm. Strikingly Bruce’s constant overlooking of the winger, given the talent he has since gone on to exhibit on a weekly basis, is rather shocking and adds further fuel to the fire, or rather to the notion that Bruce had little to do with McClean’s arrival on Wearside.

The general consensus between fans appears to be that Niall Quinn and Bryan ”Pop” Robson were the two who collaborated to quickly bring in a talent deemed too hot to miss.

With McClean right under his nose, Bruce persevered with Sebastian Larsson on the left and Ahmed Elmohammady on the right, decisions that seem all the more curious.

Fortunately with the managerial change also came the inclusion of McClean into the squad. In hindsight it turned out to be a masterstroke by O’Neill – for Bruce, on the verge of the sack, a similar gesture might have been deemed desperate, even suicidal.

As it transpires, for all the fans’ yearning for a Charles N’Zogbia or a Matt Jarvis it now seems for the paltry outlay of an initial £350,000 that our left sided midfield problems have been sorted. With a fully fit Kieran Richardson capable of marauding on the overlap, keeping opposition defenders busy by dutifully tracking him, it often allows McClean the one on one opportunity with a midfielder or right back when he is at his most dangerous.

The value of McClean’s debut, in my opinion, can’t be overstated. I’ve spoke about it at length before and mentioned it only a short while ago on this website in my previous piece but his 15-minute appearance against Blackburn was a defining point in the team’s season.

Having struggled to break through a team that had steadily retreated deeper and constricted narrower for the entire second half during Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge, it looked as if another defeat was on the cards.

Colback was sacrificed and the unknown quantity in McClean was given his chance. Within minutes McClean danced passed his marker and fired in a dangerous cross that was scrambled to safety by the defence. That one act alone caused the belief to pour back into the fans, and as if by osmosis into the team as well, two brilliant goals from David Vaughan and Larson sealing victory and so beginning our O’Neill honeymoon.

Since his debut, McClean has been an ever present in the squad and his goals against Peterborough, Arsenal and Stoke are examples of a player adept at scoring with either feet as well as his head. His tenacity in not giving up on a ball that Per Mertesacker seemingly had under control, before a bad injury claimed him from the match, is the sort of instinct that gives defenders nightmares.

For McClean, his debut season in the Premier League has already seen him capped by Ireland – so while it may be easier to claim Martin O’Neill to be signing of the season, or wittier to say Short signing Bruce’s P45 was the highlight – for me, the signing of the season has definitely been the boy from Derry who has become synonymous with Sunderland’s revolution.

'Gerrin ...' says Jake

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10 thoughts on “Luke’s World: hailing James McClean, Sunderland, Irish Republic, signing of the season”

  1. Think Colback is gonna boss one of those central midfield spots even more next season. Have a feeling he’ll take off.

    I always thought Ji looked half decent. 20 and change of culture as well!

  2. I think people need to remember Whickham is 19 years old. I’m not implying he’s going to be some kind of world beater, but while people talk about holding out hope for the likes of Ryan Noble out on loan at Hartlepool remember that Connor is younger. McClean himself is 23, 4 years older then Connor and it took him until this season to be snapped up by an English club.

    When I see the treatment of Jordan Henderson down at Liverpool it makes me annoyed, a fine player being thrown in at the deep end and judged on a price tag he had no control over. We should be better than that.

    • Totally agree with you here.
      And would add that we shouldn’t give up on Ji, he’s only 20 years old, and certainly took his goals against Cheslea and City pretty well. I also hope that when Meyler is fit he is given a chance . Don’t forget that he was good enough to keep Cana out of the team two seasons ago before his injuries sidelined him.

  3. Luke makes an interesting point about who was responsible for bringing Jimmy Mac to the club. Incidentally why aren’t we singing that with adapted words?

    Who I wonder was responsible for those other “ones for the future” Ji Dong Wan and Connor Wickham? Their impact has been negligible to say the least and for the money that was spent on the former Tractor Boy, we could have got a more proven player.

    Bruce brought some decent players in but let’s not forget Riveros, Angeleri, etc. I wonder whose advice brought those to the club?

    • I thought that it had been well publicised, some time ago, that SB had NO part in signing JM.

      According to reports, he was on Pop Robson’s radar, whilst he was at Chelsea, BUT they were not interested.

      When he then switched to Sunderland he discussed the matter with NQ, emphasising that if we did not act he was going to sign for another club (Peterborough IIRC).

      Again, going on memory, the whole deal was negotiated and signed in less than 24 hours, with SB never having been consulted!

    • “Who I wonder was responsible for those other “ones for the future” Ji Dong Wan and Connor Wickham?”

      The answer to that question will, I suspect, come out in the fullness of time – depending upon who wishes to claim the credit for their success, or attribute blame for their failure (singularly or collectively).

  4. And David Meyler, though the future isn’t looking great for him here. Maybe Tony Pulis will sign him.

  5. “a player making the switch from the League of Ireland to the Premier League and not sinking is all but unheard of”

    I can, immediately, think of a couple, although I think there will be quite a few more.

    Séamus Coleman (ex Sligo Rovers), now with Everton & Kevin Doyle (Wolves) who joined Reading from Cork City.

    I can, though, understand why Luke appears to have had a memory lapse when our previous imports, from that league, included Daryl Murphy (Waterford) & Roy O’Donovan (Cork)!!

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