Captain's Blog: McClean Deserves Backing, Not Blasting

Stu Forster - Getty Images

James McClean has struggled to find any real semblance of form in the Premier League so far this season, which has attracted one or two groans from the support. But surely Sunderland fans can't be ready for forget what a gem he is already?

James McClean is clearly not a man for half measures. I suppose we knew that from his sensational breakthrough and meteoric rise to prominence last season, but if we didn't then the way he bounds around the pitch like an irate grizzly bear who is late and lost his keys should have certainly given it away.

It is a trait of his that Sunderland have unquestionably been beneficiaries of. Without his impact against Blackburn in Martin O'Neill's first game in charge last season, it is conceivable the season could have been a disaster.

Of course, there is a down side to it too, and that has perhaps been a little more pronounced in recent months than the positives.

First of all, having taken a somewhat controversial decision over his international future, he decided to enter the sensitive debate on Irish politics via that well-known beacon of diplomacy - Twitter. After receiving death threats and removing his account, he resurfaced again on the social media site only to land himself in hot water again by blasting Giovanni Trapattoni over his selection policy.

Not the first footballer to struggle to show any real judgement with his mouth - well, keys for the modern footballer I guess - but the fact it has all coincided with a dip in his club form has, understandably, led to criticism. In fact, and less understandably, it is at the point where it has almost become fashionable to have a pop at the former Derry winger.

It sits a little uncomfortably with me, I have to admit.

Obviously I can't deny that his league form hasn't been what he would have hoped it would be so far this season. His performances have been somewhat disjointed. But surely that should have been expected? He burst onto the scene with such ferocity and then delivered with such consistency that sooner or later it was all going to catch up with him. It should be to his credit that it was the latter.

More to the point, however, he has still managed to keep himself involved in games despite being some way short of his best. In every game there was a moment when he could have easily created a goal or bagged one himself. He hasn't been a passenger like Stephane Sessegnon has so often been when his form and touch has temporarily deserted him.

Sometimes I think that there can be a little bit of a perception problem with James McClean. With his old-fashioned knock-and-run style on the ball and bullish frame he isn't the easiest of players on the eye in the modern, Messi, era. It seems some of the novelty value is starting to wear off.

He won't ever have the balance and unpredictability of Stephane Sessegnon and he will never have the poise and grace of Adam Johnson. The young lad plucked for pennies from the League of Ireland is never going to fare well in the prestige stakes against those two.

Of the three players who play behind Steven Fletcher, though, McClean is the one I'd hail as being the most effective.

He is the one I'd back to be most involved in the game on a regular basis, and in all conditions. He is the one I'd trust to be most defensively responsible. He is the one I'd most expect to make something happen out of absolutely nowhere, like he did by flashing a stunning cross across the West Ham penalty box that just eluded David Vaughan, or when he effortlessly burst past two Wigan defenders to set up Steven Fletcher's Wigan winner.

He had a little luck for the winner last week, but the point is that he still made it happen. It is what James McClean does. By hook or by crook, with or without looking in full control of the football or indeed himself, he makes things happen.

We shouldn't allow ourselves to forget how lucky we are to have him just because we happen to have got a newer, shinier, and bigger name to play on the opposite flank this summer and another one that we all expected to leave has signed a fat new contract.

It is surely just a matter of time before McClean hits his stride for the season. His performance against Roberto Martinez's men was still not quite there, but it was a big step in the right direction. In the meantime, perhaps we should take a leaf out of his book, neglect half-measures, and back him to the hilt. He has certainly earned it.

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