James McClean: a load of poppycock

by James Hunt

As you may have noticed – or more likely didn’t notice but had pointed out to you by hoards of angry tweeters – James McClean did not wear a poppy on his shirt last weekend.

The outrage was all over social networks, and reported in the local press: McClean was a disgrace, disrespectful; he should never play for the club again. I’m surprised it stopped short of him being hung, drawn and quartered.

The overreaction – as so often is the case in these situations – was totally irrational. The same people who proclaimed the winger was disrespecting those who had fought for free will were doing exactly the opposite. Wearing, or not wearing, a poppy was apparently not his decision to make.

Not a thought was given to the fact McClean is from Derry, Northern Ireland, who have suffered many losses at the hands of the British Army. I’m not necessarily saying that justifies his actions – I’m not even sure his ‘actions’ need to be justified – but if people could at least attempt to understand his viewpoint before unleashing virtual vitriol, well, it’d be nice, but then it wouldn’t be the internet.

Perhaps a more pressing matter, however, is that this is the latest controversy in the short career of the Irishman. From comments regarding his decision to play for the Republic of Ireland to criticising their manager, McClean (who has perhaps had more Twitter accounts than he has international caps) has amassed many followers but few friends.

An old friend of his from Derry has been brought over to act almost like a minder, in the hope this will help him ‘settle-down’. I’m not sure how well that is working, although – on what is unrelated, I’m sure, but deserves pointing out – his poppy-less shirt was auctioned off for charity. The bastard!

McClean burst onto the scene back in December last year, at the very beginning of Martin O’Neill’s reign. He electrified the Premier League, filling Sunderland fans with hope and opposition defenders with dread.

His stock rose in stark contrast to the FTSE, with his inclusion in Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad the pinnacle, but now he has crashed back down.

He has continually struggled to break into the Ireland side – until now a victim of poor selection as opposed to poor form. Now, though, questions are being asked, and even his place in the Sunderland side is not guaranteed.

It is worth remembering that McClean has gone from obscurity to being a Premier League star in under a year, and he is only 23. Off the pitch he obviously needs a word in his ear and an arm round his shoulder; on it, he should be allowed time to recover from this dip in form. A right foot would be nice, I suppose, but we’ll see what Santa brings.

With his rise meteoric, we now must hope he doesn’t go into a Felix Baumgartner-style freefall.

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