More mature James McClean still commited to the cause
Ireland player bemoans young stars spending more time on social media than on the pitch
James McClean at Republic of Ireland Squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The whole “young people today” thing was a pretty persistent theme of Giovanni Trapattoni’s dealings with the press generally during his time as Ireland, but the bemusement used to be turned up to 11 when he got onto the topic of James McClean, whose adventures on social media have left a few of his former managers quietly shaking their heads at one time or another.
It would be interesting to hear Trap’s take on the 30-year-old McClean on Monday, though, as the Derryman bemoaned a new generation of footballers, too many of whom, he believes, hide behind the lack of expectation at the biggest clubs, often seeming happier, on the face of it, to rack up followers than go out somewhere and play first-team football.
The Stoke City star, now being used as a left back by Nathan Jones, is specifically critical of those keyboard warriors who don’t show enough appetite for the battles they are supposed to be fighting out on the pitch – and nobody, to be sure, could ever accuse McClean of that. Trapattoni, one suspects however, would not be the only one to be entertained by his general take on too many of the teenagers who have spent their time being groomed for stardom in the Premiership’s plushest academy set-ups.
“I think there is no doubt that it’s becoming rarer,” he says when actually answering a question about the sort of character his Stoke City team-mate and Irish youth international Nathan Collins has shown while establishing himself in the first team at just 18 years of age. “You just have to accept that that’s the way the game is now.
‘Round of toast’
“There are some lads where I’d be very surprised if they knew how to make a round of toast or tie their own shoelaces, without someone there to do it for them.
“I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t have that. I learned to fend for myself. I had a different upbringing and education in the game.”
There is nothing wrong with being brash and flash, as long as you back it up
That might be a healthy contender in some competition for understatement. The young McClean came through the ranks at Institute and Derry City before earning his move to Sunderland and seizing the chance he was given there by Steve Bruce and, in particular, Martin O’Neill.
It explains why he clearly views some of those who have taken the academy path as a slightly different breed.
“I just think it depends on the breaks you get and how you handle them,” he says. “There is nothing wrong with being brash and flash, as long as you back it up. But I just think too many young players, they don’t do that. They would rather stay at a big club and probably never have a chance of getting a first-team game.
“Because they are at a Man City or a Chelsea, it looks good on their social media, rather than going on loan to a League One or League Two side and getting game time.”
Playing, he says, and winning, mean everything to McClean. He has retained his place at Stoke by adapting to the requirements of left back when many felt the diamond system employed by Jones might make him surplus to requirements.
Things have gone so poorly for the team since Jones arrived from Luton in January, of course, that the manager may soon find himself feeling more than a little unwanted by the club. McClean might be redeployed further back up the pitch but, for the moment, he has done well enough in this slightly improvised role for Mick McCarthy to confirm on Monday that he is the likely replacement in the Ireland team for Enda Stevens if anything should happen to the Sheffield United defender.
With each game I am learning the position more and I am improving
“I’m actually enjoying it,” McClean says. “I know it’s funny to say, given the situation we [Stoke, who are at the foot of the Championship table after six games] are in, but I am actually enjoying it.
“With each game I am learning the position more and I am improving. I got caught once against Leeds where I switched off and they scored. But I’m going to make mistakes while I’m learning the position.
“Before, I always had a full-back behind me; I’ve always had someone talking to me, but now I’m the last man there. It’s me who has to do the talking now.
“Other than that, it’s making sure that I remember I’m a full-back, not a winger, and giving advice to the winger. In the past, it was the other way around.”
Reverting to the more attacking role still comes very naturally, he says. “It’s just like getting back on the bike and going again.”
It would be nice if everyone looked so comfortable against Switzerland on Thursday night, but this week’s opponents have made a habit of unbalancing Irish sides.
Nobody, it almost goes without saying, will be more determined than McClean to prevent them doing it again. That much, at least, is probably accepted even by his fiercer critics. Certainly no manager has ever questioned his commitment to the cause; just the way he has expressed it on occasion.