In recent weeks James McClean has been linked with moves to Leeds United and Stoke City, with a transfer from West Bromwich Albion expected following their relegation.
The 29-year-old old nearly exited the Hawthorns in January when Derby County wanted his signature to help their promotion cause.
The Rams boss at the time was Gary Rowett, now in charge at Stoke. It is understandable that the interest has remained, with McClean an ideal player to help get Stoke back to the Premier League after their 10-year stay in the top tier ended.
At both Stoke and Leeds United, McClean would be a key player; he’d be almost assured of a regular starting berth. Something which attracted the winger to the January move, having started only four of the first 21 leagues games.
It was a point picked up on by Ireland manager Martin O’Neill in recent days. The former Celtic manager wants his player to get more minutes, both for McClean’s professional fulfillment but it would also boost the national team.
However, a move to Stoke would see the Creggan man simply switch from one unfashionable side to another. Plus, there is the fan view to consider. In a local Stoke paper 72 per cent of more than 2,000 voters opted against signing the player. More than half of those who voted against the move did so because of McClean’s political views with regards to the poppy.
A move to Leeds would be a more intriguing prospect, albeit a riskier one. He’d be a leading player for one of England’s biggest teams, but one which has not played in the Premier League since 2004.
Yet, at this stage of his career with more than 150 Premier League appearances under his belt, including 99 in the last three campaigns, there is every reason why he should be aiming higher, or for a new challenge altogether.
The player has built a back catalogue of evidence that he belongs in the Premier League.
In an interview with the BBC in 2017, he said: “I’m a very ambitious player, I want to be the best I can be.”
That would seem to contradict a move to the Championship. But he has done similar before, albeit the situation was slightly different.
Following ‘poppygate’ in 2012, when McClean first hit the headlines for opting against wearing a poppy for Sunderland, a portion of the club’s fans turned against him. He admitted that the hullabaloo affected him.
At the end of the season he had two confrontations with fans and decided his future lay elsewhere.
He took a wage cut to move to Wigan Athletic in the Championship. His displays with the Latics convinced Tony Pulis to sign him for West Brom. Not only his performances, but his character.
With an offer on the table from New York Red Bulls in MLS, McClean could easily have elected for an ‘easier’ off-field career in America rather than the yearly maelstrom created by his decision not to wear a poppy.
Yet, he endeavored to prove himself once again in England’s top-flight. And prove himself he has.
While he not scored as many goals as he perhaps should, 11 Premier League strikes in 158 appearances, he offers versatility, power and a wicked left-foot delivery from the left.
Despite fans’ views of him in England, what can’t be faulted is the player’s commitment. Something which West Brom boss Darren Moore noted at the start of May.
Fans would appreciate the edge he brings to the team. McClean has talked about that “roughness” which he developed on the streets of Derry.
Even with a few years at the top level in front of him, McClean is at a stage in his career where he shouldn’t have to drop down to come back up.
With his directness and pace, his diligence out of possession and physical attributes, especially in the air, he would be a shrewd pick-up for a number of sides, even more so at only £6 million.
Unfortunately for the player, the price tag set by the Baggies is likely to dissuade Celtic. McClean would likely walk over hot coal, broken glass then the Irish Sea to join his boyhood heroes.
It would be a new challenge and he would be able to test himself on the European stage. But Celtic are very conscientious with the money they spend, especially when Kieran Tierney and Scott Sinclair are so prominent on the left flank.
McClean has a key decision to make in his career this summer, and he should consider himself a Premier League player when he comes to making it.