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Ireland midfielder McClean underused at Euro 2012
Sunderland’s James McClean is a traditional winger. The 23-year-old is quick, strong and direct, with a quality cross and an eye for goal. He is the real deal, a chalk on the boots wide man. His pace unsettles defences. His darting runs down the wing must be a nightmare for any full back.
Taking all of this into account, I was surprised he only got about 15 minutes for the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2012. Ireland’s lacklustre and predictable performances meant they fell at the first hurdle, finishing bottom of their group without a single point.
Their performances were bereft of quality and attacking purpose. Could McClean have brought the spark they so desperately needed? Could he have been the difference between winning and losing? Who knows?
I’m not saying the Derry-born midfielder would have single-handedly won Ireland the tournament. Nor am I saying he would have performed to a high standard. But he would have brought a little bit of unpredictability and directness to a predictable and workman-like Ireland side.
On his debut for Ireland against the Czech Republic, he received a standing ovation as he entered the field from the Green Army. The fans were excited to see McClean in action. After that game, the fans demanded McClean was included in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Euro 2012 squad. He was included, but was overlooked and underused.
If Trapattoni needed convincing about McClean’s ability and the potential impact he could have, he needn’t have looked much further than Sunderland. When Martin O’Neill arrived on Wearside, the Black Cats were in 17th place on 11 points after 14 games.
In O’Neill’s first game on the sideline as manager, Sunderland were trailing Blackburn 1-0. They were lacking directness and pace. The Ulsterman needed to find someone that could excite the fans and McClean did just that. Seconds after coming on, he received the ball and attacked the defender. The crowd roared with delight and the players began to fight back. Two late goals ensured a victory for Sunderland.
It inspired Sunderland to go on a winning run and I wholeheartedly believe they we would have lost that game – and many more after that – without McClean’s introduction.
Trapattoni, in my opinion, made a huge mistake in not playing McClean. Yes, Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady, Trapattoni’s preferred wingers, got them to the finals and he wanted to stay loyal to them. But football isn’t about sentiment, it’s about winning.
McClean is still an unknown quantity on the international stage and could have been the surprise factor that unsettled the defences of Spain, Italy and Croatia. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. But let’s hope if Ireland qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, McClean gets a chance to prove what he can do.
There’s no doubt he has a bright future ahead of him. I hope it’s with Sunderland.
Written by Sunderland fan Jamie Hopps
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Jamie_Hopps