Glenn Whelan believes too much expectation is being heaped on James McClean’s young and inexperienced shoulders ahead of the Republic of Ireland’s appearance in next month’s European Championships.
McClean’s inclusion in Giovanni Trapattoni’s 23-man squad last Monday was met with widespread approval by press and supporters alike but Whelan was mindful to point out yesterday that this was a player with just 12 minutes of international football under his belt.
“For James, everything has gone right for him at the right time but he is only a young lad and has only just got into the Sunderland team so I don’t think anybody, especially us as players and people of the press, should be putting the pressure on him.”
Trapattoni has consistently taken a similar line and told an Italian newspaper once that he felt as if it was Pele or Messi being introduced off the bench such was the reaction to McClean’s shortlived debut against the Czech Republic last February.
Yet Trap has been guilty of building up players himself in the past. Whelan was once compared to AC Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso while McClean got paired with none other than Alessandro Del Piero at the squad announcement.
“You know Trap, he comes out with a few things now and again,” said Whelan with a laugh — but his point was a serious one.
“[McClean] doesn’t need the pressure of being compared to this player and that player because if it doesn’t work for him then the shoe is on the other foot and people will want to forget about him and say ‘oh look, there’s someone else’.
“The big thing for James was getting in the squad, so what does he want to do now? Does he just want to stay in the squad or get in the team? That’s what he has to look at. Get in the team first and do well. We need people who are on form and he is definitely one of them.”
Wise words but everything McClean has done up to now has been suggestive of a man who doesn’t get fazed by others’ opinions of him — even if he has this week shut down his Twitter account due to sectarian abuse and death threats.
High expectations at least mean that he has made the squad for the finals. Others weren’t so lucky, among them Liam Lawrence and Paul McShane.
Whelan has already spoken with most of those omitted and revealed that the nearly year-long public spat between one of those, Marc Wilson and Trapattoni, has been put to bed with the men making contact in recent days.
Confusion surrounded Wilson’s no-show for a Carling Nations Cup game against Northern Ireland last summer and, though he was named and turned up for a subsequent squad against Croatia, he picked up an injury and returned to England.
He has not been seen in an Ireland camp since and was quoted as being perplexed by comments made by Trapattoni earlier this year — subsequently retracted — that he owed the manager an apology for going out at night.
“I spoke to Marc and he said that he’d spoken to the manager of Ireland and he’s told him he’s not out of his plans,” said Whelan of his Stoke City colleague.
“Marc was delighted to get the phone call because he knew people were still watching him.
“I don’t think it was ever anything to come from Mark. I think he always wanted to play, he always made himself available but he wasn’t picked at times so what can you do? You can’t twist a manager’s arm to say, ‘you should pick me’.
“All Marc had to do was keep doing what he was doing which was playing well for Stoke and then people were going to notice.”
Whelan speaks from a position of personal experience.
Ten years ago he played a key role in the U19s’ defeat of Holland in a play-off that took Ireland to the European Youth Championships in Norway only to field a phone call from Brian Kerr to say he wouldn’t be required for the finals.
A year later and he was part of the Irish side that made the round of 16 at the World Youth Championships by winning two and drawing one of their group games and Whelan believes avoiding defeat in the opener next month is paramount to Irish ambitions.
“The last thing we want is to be beaten heavily be Croatia and then find that the confidence is gone and the fans are worried about what’s going to happen against Spain and Italy so, no, as players I don’t think we’ve achieved anything yet.
“Qualifying is great but qualifying and then being a disappointment over there is not what we want so we want to go and give ourselves the best chance of getting out of the group.”
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