McClean: There were times in the season I wanted to leave

His desire to spend a stint at boyhood idols Celtic is apparent but the first priority for James McClean is the immediate uncertainty over his club future.

James McClean takes a corner in Scott Brown's testimonial between Celtic and a Republic of Ireland XI Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

West Brom rejected two bids for the Ireland winger, one in August from Burnley and another during the January transfer window by Derby, and are braced for more interest now that their Premier League status is gone.

For McClean’s part, he’s not of a mind to be engineering a move from a club still bristling from a first relegation for nine years. Still, while he’s contracted to the Baggies, the 29-year-old possesses the pragmatism to realise money and status talks.

The Derryman was a frustrated figure at the time of those bids, agitating to depart a set-up he didn’t feel part of, but the appointment of Darren Moore as caretaker boss in early April changed his outlook.

McClean started all of their last six Premier League games, a streak in which they lost only once to mount a late bid to avoid relegation.

The Irishman’s rapport with Moore, this week handed the job on a permanent basis, is one reason why his next move isn’t straightforward.

“I have ambitions of playing at the highest level because you want to be the best you can as a footballer,” admitted the former Sunderland and Wigan Athletic attacker.

“However, I’ve another year left on my contract so we’ll see what happens over the summer.

“Sometimes the decision is taken out of your hands if the club get a bid that’s too good to turn down.

“Or, vice-versa, a deal is offered to a player that is difficult not to accept. I only know as much as anyone else.

There were times during the season I wanted to leave but the club rejected the bids. I had been playing during the first window, so figured it wasn’t too bad that West Brom rejected the Burnley offer. As soon as that window closed, however, I was dropped.

Having been bitten once, McClean wasn’t prepared to suffer again in January. He was still prevented from breaking free of his bit-part role.

“I was only playing once every three games and then Derby came in for me,” he explained.

“They were second in the Championship and I wasn’t playing as regularly as I’d liked so I wanted to leave but the same thing happened.

“The club said I wasn’t going anywhere; the usual stuff that I was vital to the team.

“I had two good opportunities to leave for regular football but they denied me both times and then didn’t play me. It was very tough.

“Then Darren came in and made me feel like a footballer again.”

McClean turned 29 recently and admits the body is starting to tell him he’s getting on.

Whatever about his next move, the intention of eventually adding Celtic to his list of clubs remains.

The diehard nationalist received the biggest cheer of the Irish team from Celtic fans during Sunday’s Scott Brown testimonial and though the Keanes, Roy and Robbie, stopped off at Paradise towards the tailend of their careers, McClean doesn’t want the potential move considered a marriage of convenience.

“Celtic were always my team growing up because I’ve where I’m from,” he said. “I came over to plenty of games, as far back as the 2005 Scottish Cup final against Hearts at Hampden Park.

“Martin O’Neill was Celtic manager and Craig Bellamy scored the winner. I take any opportunity to get there for the big Champions League nights. It might have been a six-hour round trek from Birmingham and I felt horrible in training the next morning but it was worth going to the 3-3 game against Manchester City in 2016.

If it was up to me, I’d have been a Celtic player a long time ago. There was a rumour they wanted to buy me from Sunderland but they signed Derk Boerrigter instead. The days are gone when players are seeing out their career by joining Celtic for the romance. If the opportunity comes, it would be a very difficult one to turn Celtic down. I’ve never hidden that.

Before his head turns to club matters, McClean has Monday’s friendly in Paris against France.

“They’re heading to the World Cup and will be bang at it, so we’ll have to be too,” he noted.


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