Keith Andrews has labelled James McClean the ‘‘most talked about youngster in the Premier League’ and says the Sunderland winger has instantly settled into life as an international footballer.
McClean made his Republic of Ireland debut last week, coming on as a late substitute in the 1-1 friendly draw against the Czech Republic.
It capped a remarkable few months for the former Derry City man who has impressed hugely at Sunderland since Martin O’Neill took charge at the start of the December.
Andrews has been suitably impressed by the 22-year-old.
“He’s settled in straight away,’’ the West Brom midfielder, who was a guest analyst on 3e for last night’s Europa League game between Manchester United and Athletic Bilbao, said. “He was very confident around the place, confident without being cocky. He’s obviously done very, very well in previous months at Sunderland. He’s come on to the scene, he’s probably the most talked about youngster in the Premier League. In training we’ve seen glimpses of it.’’
McClean, of course, was controversially originally left out of the squad for the Czech game with Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni indicating that out of fairness he intended to keep faith with the players who helped the team quality for the Euro finals.
Asked his views on new players being parachuted into the squad at the 11th hour, Andrews said: ‘‘I would look at it from both sides of the coin. If I wasn’t an international at the moment I would be playing at my club and trying to get in the team. I’m sure there are players throughout the Premier League and Championship who are doing that.
‘‘Until the squad is announced the manager, I’m sure, will still be looking elsewhere because as a player who’s in the squad at the moment you certainly can’t rest on your laurels because there’s always players there champing at the bit, ready to take your place.’’
Inevitably, there will be disappointed players when Trapattoni names his final 23-man squad for the finals. Recent months have seen players like Liam Lawrence and Kevin Kilbane fall out of favour. Andrews admits it’s difficult when team-mates are left out. ‘‘It is tough. There’s no other way to put it. It’s not nice. It means your friends, your team-mates get left out, players who were involved for a good many years. He [the manager] has got to make tough, tough decisions and leave players out and that’s what he’s paid to do.’’
Trapattoni’s tactics have been fiercely criticised at times but Andrews feels the team plays to its strengths.
‘‘I think it’s a bit of a catch-22. I genuinely believe our biggest attribute is the fact that we’re a team. We’re not blessed with players who play in the top two, three or four teams in the Premier League. When we come together we are a proper team. I do genuinely believe if we do expand and play this free-flowing football that people want to see, I think we certainly won’t be as hard to beat and we might get picked off a little bit more easily.’’
As the league season enters its closing stages Andrews admits picking up an injury is a worry.
However, he said: ‘‘There’s a realistic chance that one or two of us may get injured before the Euros. I’ll be praying it’s not me.’’
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