James McClean freely admits that Martin O'Neill is the best man-manager he has ever worked with, so it is unsurprising that he welcomes the news that O'Neill has rebuffed Stoke City to remain as Irish manager for the next campaign. “I couldn’t be more delighted that he’s staying on", McClean tells Balls. "He has been great for my career -- at club level and international. Not only that, he has been great for Ireland".
O'Neill was said to be irked by the level of criticism aimed his way in the aftermath of the 5-1 hammering against Denmark, and McClean believes that the criticism was egregious.
The way he was criticised after the Denmark game… I think his record is very underrated. We qualified for the Euros from a very tough group, we got to the last 16 out of a very tough group and were narrowly beaten by France. And then we were one game from going to a World Cup, which isn’t a bad feat for a very small country.
100% [the criticism was over the top]. A lot of it was uncalled for. But I understand pundits and ex-players in the media have to make a name for themselves, and they feel they have to be controversial to get noticed.
If you felt aggrieved that you were kept in the dark during the week-long flirtation between O'Neill and Stoke City, which ultimately ended in O'Neill finally signing a contract that had been verbally agreed months earlier, the players were kept equally so. Not that McClean bears any hint of ill-feeling over the matter, and says that it won't be a problem going forward.
We were looking in from the outside, the same as everyone else. The manager is his own man; he isn’t going to seek advice from any of the players. He never once said he was leaving or he was interested in the job, he kept quiet, signed a new deal, all’s good.
That’s nothing. We’re big boys, we’re professionals, our job is to go on the pitch and do what we can to pick up wins and get the best results possible for the country.
He’s an unbelievable motivator. He makes you feel you’re the best player in the world when you’re going on the pitch. As a player, going on the pitch, knowing you’ve got the full backing of your manager to go and express yourself, there’s no better feeling. [In terms of] His man-management, I’ve never worked with anyone better.
With the future stable at international level, McClean's focus now switches to club level. West Brom's season is in danger of slipping into calamity: after just three league wins all season, a training camp in Spain last week was besmirched by four senior players allegedly stealing a taxi.
McClean's own season has been frustrating, frequently finding himself on the bench. He has started just six league games all season, and was linked with a move to Derby County in January in pursuit of first-team football.
It was on the cards, but it didn't happen. I can sulk, but at the end for the day I've a job to do at West Brom. My main focus now is to get my head down and be the best I can be, and help West Brom avoid the drop. We need everyone to pull together, so there is no time to sulk.
James McClean was speaking at the launch of Neymar Jr’s Five, Red Bull’s unique five-a-side football tournament for men and women.