HE’S back in big time football and, predictably, James McClean’s move to “The Baggies” has fashioned the usual flow of criticism which has dogged the 26-years-old’s career in English football.
His initial move to Sunderland didn’t go very well despite an electrifying start.
“A new star is born maybe?” declared a Premier League match commentator whenMcClean made his debut under current Irish boss, Martin O’Neill.
But it all went so horribly wrong in the end.
Controversial “tweets” and nonsenscical “posts” on social media attracteda widespread attention and the player’s initial popularity took a sudden nosedive.
Fast forward a few years and James is now the partner of a level headed and attractive local lass, Erin, the parents of a delightful baby daughter.
I’ve grown up and learned quite a lot. I’ve definitely matured as a person and now that I will be returning to the Premiership this season, that’s what it’s all aboutJames McClean
And with Erin expecting their second child in September, things are at last beginning to look up for the former Brandywell boy.
“Hands up, I’ve made quite a few mistakes as a young player having arrived in Sunderland,” admitted the winger when we spoke this week.
“Yes, I’ve been naive, the use of social media didn’t do me any favours and I now understand that.
“I’ve grown up and learned quite a lot since. I’ve definitely matured as a person and now that I will be returning to the Premiership this season, that’s what it’s all about,” he insisted.
“I agreed to leave Sunderland and join Wigan Athletic after the club had been relegated to the Championship before the start of last season.
“I took a significant drop in wages to do that, but I opted to take two steps back in order to take a step forward and that gamble has paid off for me,” declared the Derry man.
A massive favourite at his home town club, McClean’s generous donations to local charities are not documentedby the British Press but that’s not a concern for the player who is now keen to refocus and take his career forward at “The Hawthorns.”
Born and reared during the “Troubles” in the predominantly Creggan area of Derry, the skillful, pacey yet tough-tackling winger knew that life was always going to develop into a battle and he proved that on the pitch, where only the fit survive.
Last Monday evening, he put pen to paper on a three years contract - with an option for a fourth - with West Bromich Albion. An undisclosed fee, believed tol be in the region of £1.7 million with add-ons, has now led him back into the Barclays Premiership.
“I have always believed in my ability as a footballer. I have always been totally focused on what I attempted to achieve and while Wigan, unfortunately, faced a relegation battle and lost, my gamble to join the club has since proved positive.
“I was not prepared to drop into League One as my priority has always been to return to the Premiership where I believe I belong.
“And my biggest regret is that Wigan got relegated. That really disappointed me as I held the view that the club could and should have survived the drop.
“I met many decent people at Wigan, people who I have the greatest respect for and having been voted the club’s “player of the year” during my one season there, I felt that my efforts on the pitch had been recognised.
“I had offers from other Championship clubs. I even travelled to America and had talks with the New York Red Bulls. They wanted to sign me and offered me a very attractive contract and I certainly gave that possibility plenty of thought.
“However, it was on my way home from the ‘States that I was told that West Brom boss, Tony Pulis, had again expressed an interest in signing me as he had done when managing Stoke City and Crystal Palace,” noted McClean.
“Therefore, the move to West Brom was a no-brainer for me as the possibility of returning to the Premiership was always the target. I have great respect for the manager who had made it clear that he wanted to sign me in the past and I believe I’m now about to start a contract with the biggest club of my career to date.”
In fact, despite recent criticism, I didn’t get the feeling that McClean was having a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ dig at Sunderland!
“West Brom, I believe, have always been a comfortable Premiership club with a great loyal support and I believe I will have no problems in settling in once I meet the playing staff for pre-season training next month.
“Back playing in the Premiership will boost my chances of representing Ireland and that’ has also high on my agenda.
“I want to be the best I can be and I feel that West Brom could prove to be the perfect club for me to continue my development. I’ve great respect for the manager. I’m extremely thankful that he wanted me to join him.
“Having been presented with the opportunity to return to the top flight, I intend to do everything in my power to pay back the manager’s faith in me,” concluded McClean.