“Hello, I am Giovanni Trapattoni.”
When the Ireland manager rang James McClean yesterday morning, he identified himself straight off just to make sure that the Sunderland man didn’t think he was the victim of a dressing room prankster.
When Trapattoni calls a player, he explained with a smile, he wants to make sure that they don’t get a chance to hang up before he gets to the point.
And getting to the point in his call to McClean meant the manager saying the six little words which capped five life-changing months for the Derry man: “James, you are on our list”.
McClean had to wait until 3.30pm, and the official unveiling of the European Championship squad at the Aviva Stadium, before he could share his thoughts with the world. Six minutes later he could contain himself no longer and tweeted: “Absolutely honoured and couldn’t be happier to have been called up to represent my country at the Euros. No better feeling”.
Derry City fans and League of Ireland devotees in general had long been aware of the 23-year-old as one of the outstanding talents in the domestic game. Still, on the very same night, in September 2010, that Ireland were opening their European Championship qualifying campaign with a win over Armenia in Yerevan, thanks to a Keith Fahey goal, McClean was in a Derry side which was in the process of losing 2-0 to Waterford United in the Airtricity First Division. And it’s fair to say that, to the wider world, he was still a virtual unknown when Ireland were wrapping up their qualification for the Euro finals against Estonia in Dublin back in November.
But, just a few weeks later, new Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill handed McClean his Premier League debut, and the reverberations of the player’s explosive impact in England’s top flight are now set to reach all the way to Poland in June. Trapattoni made it clear yesterday that he’s not bringing along the winger just to make up the numbers or satisfy popular demand. That’s not the way the Italian works.
Of course, Trapattoni still believes McClean has much to learn and, to that end, the player has agreed to come in early to Dublin — with up to 10 other members of the squad — to give the Irish management extra time to work with him.
“I asked him can you come with us three or four days (before the rest of the players) because we wish to make with you the exercise, have a chance to improve your game and a chance to do other situations,” Trapattoni explained. “He said ‘thank you’ and that he would come immediately on May 17. I already spoke with him, three or four months ago, about the possibility of playing on the right wing as well. There are many examples of left-footed players playing on the right. I bought Liam Brady (for Juventus) when he played at Arsenal. He played with no 7 on his back and played on the right wing. So that is one of the reasons we want James in early so we can try him in this position too.”
Trapattoni recalled watching McClean at Sunderland when, on a run up the wing, he negotiated two crunching tackles and managed, not only to retain possession, but finish with a shot to the net. There was an element of luck about it, Trapattoni thought, but the manager was also hugely impressed by the player’s desire and persistence.
And the Italian was also moved to recall another young player who once made an instant impact. Trapattoni had Alessandro Del Piero as a 17-year-old at Juventus. For his debut, Trap sprung the kid from the bench. Four minutes and thirty seconds later he scored a goal. “And I said, ‘He will have a great career’. Del Piero was fantastic.”
By the sound of things, Trapattoni won’t be reluctant either to throw James McClean into the fray at the Euros.
“He has a good enough personality, he is young, physically strong and he has improved also,” the manager enthused. “I think he can give us energy. Remember, we have three games in eight days in Poland. And I am sure we will need options. Obviously, we start with Duff and McGeady but maybe in the second and third game McClean can be important. That is what he can give us now. And he is also a player for the future.”
Trapattoni was asked if he reckoned there was a chance McClean could have an impact at the Euros similar to the one that Italy’s surprise call-up Toto Schillaci had at Italia ’90. Trap allowed himself a smile. “May God be on his side and may he be like Schillaci”, he said.
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