James McClean brands FAI managerial search a ‘shambles’

Welcome to Wrexham star heavily critical of his former Republic of Ireland and Derry City boss Stephen Kenny

James McClean declined to mention Stephen Kenny by name as he excoriated both the former Republic of Ireland manager and the FAI.

Speaking in Dublin as an ambassador for autism charity As I Am, McClean also hinted at adding to his 103 caps come the Nations League tie against England in September.

“In my mind I’m retired, but if the call ever comes to play for your country it’s a hard one to turn down,” he said.

All of this happened under the glare of a Disney+ camera crew, lapping up content for the latest episode of ‘Welcome to Wrexham’.


McClean says that he felt railroaded into international retirement last year after informing Kenny that he was signing for the Welsh club that has been transformed into an Emmy-award-winning reality TV show starring Ryan Reynolds and, come Season Three this summer, ‘Jimmy McClean’.

“Tune in May 2nd and you will see.”

McClean took the opportunity to broach the subject of being dropped from the Ireland squad – “for the first time in 12 years” – following an unrelated question about Wrexham’s recent promotion to the third tier of English football.

“I remember a phone call that I had with the manager of Ireland at the time and I told him about the move to Wrexham, he couldn’t wait to get off the phone. Ultimately, I would say that was a major factor in my decision to step away from Ireland. In a way sometimes you make the decision, but you are made to walk the plank.

“For me, it was like, if I don’t walk away now I may never get the opportunity to say goodbye on my terms.”

Kenny is on record stating he did not want to select Irish players at League Two clubs.

“I thought it was very disrespectful,” McClean said.

Recalled to the squad for the defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam last November, he continues to take issue with the way he was replaced against New Zealand three days later in Dublin. That 1-1 draw proved the swan song of Kenny’s disastrous 40 games in charge.

“We [Wrexham] had an important game at Accrington on the Saturday and I was called up for the Dutch game, only to be sat on the bench and not get on,” he remembered. “So, I ended up missing the Accrington game as well because of that.

“Look, I’ll be honest, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, how my Ireland career ended, because the occasion itself, I got to say goodbye on my terms to the Aviva crowd which is obviously special, but for [the New Zealand] game, to be taken off after 66 minutes, not even as a single substitution but as a double substitution, I just thought that was poor and it’s a moment you never get back.”

On the latest FAI crisis, after chief executive Jonathan Hill cleared his desk in Abbotstown on Monday and the promised managerial unveiling was postponed, McClean had plenty to contribute.

“I think it’s an absolute shambles. It seems every week there is a new name being thrown in the mix and then that name is coming out and rejecting it and distancing himself from the job. It feels like we’re going around in circles. I think it’s been shambolic from the FAI in how they’ve went with the process.”

John O’Shea’s lack of managerial experience should not dissuade the FAI board from giving him the job, he believes.

“You say lack of experience, but John knows the game inside out, he’s got all the experience in the world. I know Ireland is a big job but I think John is more capable, he’s been in this set-up the past year with the current squad so he knows the players, he knows what they’re capable of, why not?

“They are trying to give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry and nobody seems to want it. It’s leaving them with egg on their faces. From the outside looking in, it’s embarrassing, hopefully they can get it sorted.”

McClean, having recently been diagnosed as autistic, along with his daughter Willow-Ivy, is equally forthcoming on his family situation.

“In the past people probably think, there goes James, acting off again, but the diagnosis gives people and myself an understanding why I have reacted the way I have, when blowing the lid at times.

“Would I be in the position I am today without it? Probably not. We’ll never know but it has definitely contributed, giving me that tunnel vision, that sheer focus and determination to get where I am today.

“Look, it has definitely been a hard journey. For the first few years Willow was very frustrated out and about. That was really tough but she has come on leaps and bounds, she is in mainstream school which is a big step. We are in a fortunate position in that we can go private with a lot of Willow’s appointments which are not always available to other people as it costs money, which is a shame.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent