In a rare interview, James McClean opens up to chief sports writer Mark Douglas about his loss of form, his international nightmare and how life has changed during a remarkable year
AMONG the ink which adorns the arms of James McClean is a tattoo which bears the legend: “Learn from yesterday, live for today and hope for tomorrow.”
Given the way a tumultuous 12 months has unfolded for him, it is an appropriate phrase for the Sunderland winger to add to his collection of body art.
From bursting on to the scene in the early days of Martin O’Neill’s tenure to being snubbed at international level – all documented via a selection of terse Twitter missives – it has been some year for McClean and he is not quite as immune to criticism as he first appears.
The 22-year-old admits it has been tough to hear he belongs in the category of “arrogant footballers” for the crime of being a bit too outspoken on Twitter.
It is an unfair charge on a player who is remarkably down-to-earth.
He doesn’t drink, lives with his long-term girlfriend and unwinds by going to the cinema and playing computer games.
Despite the appearance of confidence, the accusations have hurt. Morale has been knocked.
There are two themes to this rare chance to chat to Sunderland’s flying winger – that of disappointment at the way this summer’s Euros went for him and an acceptance he must get used to the constant glare of being a Premier League footballer.
McClean admits: “I’m the same, but it has changed. People point and stare at you because you play football and that is all new to me.
“I spent 22 years back home (in Derry) and you become used to a certain kind of way of doing things.
“I know now I need to watch what I say and be careful.
“It is well known as a Premier League footballer the public monitor every move you make and I probably just need to learn from that.
“I have not changed, I’m the same way I was before.
“I should probably take it as compliment more attention is coming my way this year.
“I know I have not had the best start to this season but it is up to me to overcome that. I am confident I can.
“I know there has been a lot of publicity on other things away from the pitch this year, back home it is the sort of thing you say (Twitter). It’s normal.
“Back home you would Tweet things and it would be a bit of craic and not meant to be insulting.
“Now I have to watch what I say to my friends otherwise people could pick it up wrong. It is old habits.
“The manager has said to me I can’t say things on Twitter I would say back home. People at home would know how to take it, but it is different now. I need to get used to it.”
Having quit Twitter – a brief re-appearance last week was shelved because it “isn’t worth the bother” – McClean is now looking to concentrate on footballing matters.
He rode on the crest of a wave last year, his form making it easy for him to cope with the extra coverage and attention.
This season it has not been so easy for McClean, heralded as a “throwback” winger after making such an explosive impact in his first season.
Defenders know more about him and he is still struggling to come to terms with events in Poland, Ukraine and latterly, Kazakhstan.
Being overlooked by Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni is still a sore point for a player desperate to prove himself worthy of the hype which surrounds him back home – and McClean admits it has affected him.
He added: “The whole Ireland thing is out in public and it’s really knocked my confidence.
“I went to the Euros full of confidence, but it didn’t go too well for me. I thought I had a good season but I still couldn’t get in the team.
“Coming back, I had an indifferent pre-season.
“I wanted to come back and kick on from last season but so far I haven’t managed to do that.
“In the same sense, as a team I don’t think we have managed to do that.
“In my mind in the summer I was believing I should be at least getting a chance. Otherwise why are you in the squad?
“There’s no point sitting here and sulking about it, though, I just have to work hard, prove people wrong and that’s the attitude I have to take.
“The manager here is probably the best manager to repair my confidence. He has been top-class with me.
“I have never really spoken about the whole Euros experience, or the Ireland thing, in general but, even after the Euros, events have probably knocked my confidence a little bit.
“I know I need to move on from that and prove the Ireland manager wrong and get in to the team.”
Is it a hindrance the famously forensic Irish football press are putting forward his claims?
He pauses before saying: “In a way sometimes being the big player people are talking about in the media can be a negative.
“Maybe the manager decided they will not pick the team for him and he is being stubborn. That’s the way it is. That’s just football.”
It probably helps McClean is taking steps to address some of the off-field issues which have brought him unnecessary column inches this season.
His Twitter account has disappeared and former Derry team-mate Eugene Ferry will be joining him on Wearside shortly.
McClean explains: “I went back on Twitter last weekend, after a few days I thought again. I had been off it for two months.
“When I went on again after a while I thought, ‘I don’t really need this’.
“I have deleted it (his account). I thought I was a bit of a Twitter addict to be honest, but I didn’t miss it when I was off it the first time.
“My girlfriend started me up an account as a joke but after two days I thought, ‘I don’t need the hassle’.
Friend Ferry will soon add another friendly face to McClean’s social circle.
He added: “He’s coming over to live with me, he’s from East Derry, but not as a minder.
“He’s finished university and that’s all it is. He is coming over to live with me and my girlfriend.
“I don’t think I need looking after! I am 22 – and I will be charging him rent!”
The hope is, with O’Neill’s help, McClean will return to the heights of last season.
Stoke, where he scored the winner with the one moment of class in a scrappy game last year, would be a decent stage for Sunderland to start motoring.
He said: “The manager has been absolutely first-class for me.
“He has looked after me a lot. He has kept me on the straight and narrow.
“He has told me off when I needed him to. The biggest thing is he is just giving me advice and now I would love to repay him.
“We do feel we have a point to prove as a team. We are capable of more.”