JAMES McClean refuses to allow sustained abuse from rival fans to ‘shatter his confidence’, claiming the taunts from the terraces have fuelled him with the passion and desire to produce the best form of his career.
The West Brom midfielder was involved in a touchline ‘spat’ with an Everton supporter during the ‘Baggies’ superb 1-0 win at Goodison Park last week - the latest in a long line of controversial events to secure an unwanted headline for the Creggan man.
However, McClean (26) claims that incident was blown totally out of proportion by the English media - something he’s grown accustomed to over the past 12 months.
Described as a ‘ticking time-bomb’, ‘hot-head’, ‘fiery Irishman’ and a ‘marked man’ for his conduct both on and off the pitch this season, McClean has been subjected to vile abuse on Twitter and from the stands.
One year ago, he says, that abuse left him in a ‘dark place’ while he was playing for then Championship outfit Wigan. Now, however, he says it’s like ‘water off a duck’s back’ and he’s given up trying to change the public’s perceptions.
He’s currently enjoying one of his best ever seasons since he first graced the Premier League stage with Sunderland back in 2011, scoring twice in 29 appearances, including a dramatic late equaliser against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
He’s won over West Brom fans, who booed him during pre-season games, with his passion and limitless work-rate and has been singled out as one of the club’s best players this season.
However, he accepts that his excellent performances have been somewhat overshadowed by off-field events.
And he’s hoping he can hit the headlines for all the right reasons and ‘let the football do the talking’ during the final three months of the season.
“Last season was a difficult time,” said the Derry man. “It was a dark time for me. I just want to let the football do the talking now and get people to stop focusing on my actions off the field and get back to talking about what I can do on the field.
A few years ago when I started getting abuse it had a massive effect on me in terms of how I was playing. It shattered my confidence but I’ve got used to that now and it doesn’t bother me as much. If anything, it spurs me on.James McClean
“It’s been a good season for me and I’ve played virtually every game, bar suspensions. The manager has shown a lot of trust in me and, hopefully, what I’m doing now is repaying that faith.
“I’m feeling confident, feeling good and, with the Euros coming up in the summer as well, I want to finish the season strongly and, hopefully, I can add a few more goals and assists as well.
“A few years ago when I started getting abuse, it had a massive effect on me in terms of how I was playing. It shattered my confidence but I’ve got used to that now and it doesn’t bother me as much. If anything, it spurs me on.”
The former Derry City winger was hauled off the pitch by West Brom boss, Tony Pulis, last weekend after picking up a booking for a challenge on his Republic of Ireland teammate, Seamus Coleman.
That led to a heated verbal exchange with an Everton fan as he took his seat in the dugout. But, again, McClean says it was an ‘altercation’ which didn’t deserve the media attention it received.
“Last Saturday (at Everton) was a prime example when any small action I do, on or off the field, is going to be picked up by the media and the papers are going to make it a lot bigger of a story than it should be.
“On Saturday, there was a two second altercation with a fan which, in my eyes, was nothing and then it’s in the papers as this big spat. Any opportunity they get, like on Remembrance Day, they’re going to bring my name up and it’s like water off a duck’s back now.”
“I know it’s always going to happen,” he continued. “My focus is doing well on the pitch and whatever happens off it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I know it’s coming and I’m prepared for it. I’m used to it now and it is what it is.
“As long as I impress the fans of the club I play for, then that’s all that matters. I’m not stupid enough to believe I’m going to change people’s perceptions of me. I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over it. I expect the abuse and I’m well used to it by now.
“First and foremost, I want to help West Brom finish as high up the table as possible. We have a lot of quality in the squad and there’s no reason why we can’t do that. We’re in a good position in the table at the minute and we want to crack on now.
“If we do that, and I continue to play well and be included in the team, then that bodes well for the summer. I’ll be going to the Euros, if called upon, firing on all cylinders.
“So, I want to finish the season strongly, get a few more goals and assists so I can take that into the Euros.”
Relishing Second Chance
McClean is clearly relishing a second chance at playing in English football’s top flight after the heartbreak of back-to-back relegations with Wigan Athletic.
And, under West Brom boss, Pulis, who is a huge fan of McClean’s work ethic and direct style, the winger has become a key player as the ‘Baggies’ steadily climb the Premier League table.
That impressive away win against Everton followed progression to the fifth round of the FA Cup after a penalty shootout scare against Peterborough. McClean believes this season offers so much promise now.
“There’s a good feel factor about the club at the minute,” said the Republic of Ireland international. “We’re on 32 points now and well on our way to the target of 40 they say keeps you up and, hopefully, we get beyond that.
“It’s been a good season so far. We haven’t always got the plaudits as regards how we play, but, at the end of the day, we’re picking up results like we showed last Saturday.
“It was far from pretty but I would rather play unattractive football and pick up three points rather than playing attractive football and losing.
“It’s a results business and, personally, I don’t care how we get the points as long as we come out winners at the end of the game - that’s all that matters.
“Last Saturday was a massive result. Everton are a quality side. You just have to look at the depth in their squad - they have some world class players and, basically, their whole squad is made up of international players.
“It’s never easy going to Goodison Park and, for us to go there and pick up a win and get a clean sheet, it was a massive result and it should bode well for the big games coming up. It should give us a lot of confidence.
“We’re doing well in the league and we’re one game off the quarter-finals of the FA Cup as well so it’s got all the makings for a good end to the season.”