Club/Nation: Sunderland/Republic of Ireland
James McClean has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence over the past six months, and has been the subject of plenty of hype in the run up to Euro 2012.
The Irishman was signed by Steve Bruce for Sunderland from hometown club Derry City in August 2011, but did not make his debut until 11th December in what was Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge.
Since that impressive debut as a substitute, and first start in a victory over Manchester City, McClean has never looked back, playing with directness, confidence and consistency. He capped his performances this season by winning his club’s Young Player of the Season award.
James McClean turned down the chance to play for Northern Ireland, who he represented at youth and under-21 level, in order to wait for a call-up from the Republic of Ireland. He made his debut against the Czech Republic in February, and started his first international against Bosnia-Herzegovina last weekend.
He will face stiff competition for a starting berth at the Euros, as Ireland are blessed with real talent on the wings in the form of Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady, as well as McClean. Should he get his chance however, McClean’s power and strong running on the ball give him the opportunity to frighten opposition full backs.
McClean’s work rate and defensive capabilities could also find him favour with manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who historically likes to keep his sides tight. McClean is accomplished when tracking back, perhaps more so than his competition on the wings, Duff and McGeady. He is physically strong, as well as fit, and possesses a fair amount of grit that aids his defensive work.
It is likely that Trapattoni will start the tournament with his more experienced wide men, but the excitement that McClean brings could propel him into the limelight. He enjoys running at his man, and is not afraid to demand the ball from his teammates. This was evident in the game against Bosnia, despite it only being his first start for his country.
Trapattoni will like McClean’s work ethic but the winger is also blessed with pace and flair, and has the ability to create chances – which will be vital in the games Ireland have to play. It is likely that in the games against Italy and Spain, they will be subject to long periods without the ball. During these periods, McClean’s work rate could be important, along with his ability to carry the ball upfield and potentially create something for his fellow forwards.
The Sunderland man has been quick to garner confidence from those who are willing to put their faith in him. Martin O’Neill has been repaid at club level and Trapattoni seems willing to put his trust in him at international level.
If McClean can break into the side at Euro 2012 and produce what he is capable of, it would cap a remarkable rise for the winger.
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