MARTIN O’Neill insists he still has complete faith in James McClean after it emerged that a close friend will move to the North East to help out the “homesick” Irish winger.
Former Derry team-mate Eugene Ferry will join McClean (pictured left) and his girlfriend in their North East home – although not as a “minder” as was reported in some circles yesterday.
Ferry is understood to be continuing his studies in Newcastle and has not been employed by Sunderland, although O’Neill approves of the idea to help a player that he admits is still searching for his best form.
Some have accused McClean of suffering from ‘second-season syndrome’ – but O’Neill bristled when it was put to him that the player might have been ‘found out’ by Premier League defenders.
“Against Manchester City, (Pablo) Zabaleta was straight in on top of him, right in and that’s happened the first three or four times he’s picked it (the ball) up,” he said. “It’s a case of trying to find a bit of room for himself.
“All good wingers do suss it, to create space and see if there’s anything over the top. He’s had no apprenticeship at all and it takes a bit of time.
“If you are being heavily
marked, then you have to realise there should be space for someone else. Utilising that space when you don’t have the ball is very valuable. Of course he’s still going to be judged by what he does on the ball.
“He’s capable of coming right through this season and doing well.
“Did I think these things would happen to him? Of course, every one of us thought: ‘let’s see what James does in his second season’ and it’s interesting.
“Do I think he’s got the capability to get over that? Absolutely.
“Teams and individual full-backs are paying him a lot more attention and that’s a natural thinking. Someone picks the ball up and goes past you one season you’re going to make sure next time around that you deal with it. It’s how James deals with that.”
Off-the-field issues have hardly helped the young midfielder (right) this season, with social networking site Twitter a constant source of controversy for the Republic of Ireland international.
O’Neill has objected to the use of coarse language and also by the player’s criticism of Republic boss Giovanni Trapattoni last month.
It is interesting to hear that O’Neill thinks Ferry moving to England will help a player who is perhaps coming to terms with his role as an established Premier League footballer.
“I’ve not got a problem with that and it’s not a big issue, he’s not five years of age, although I’ve said to you he’s 23 going on it!” O’Neill quipped.
“I just think he’s been a little bit homesick, that’s my thought. James might not go with that. Lots of things have happened to him and my annoyance with him was purely on the Tweeting aspect more than anything else, especially some of the choice language and picking Trapattoni’s team for him.
“There’s a difference to telling James to be a bit sensible, but I don’t think he’s gone off the rails or anything. My concern is him playing well for us. If there’s something off the field, then on a serious note I have to look at that.
“If he’s happy with someone living with him, then fine.”
Meanwhile, the Black Cats signed forward James McFadden on a three-month contract yesterday with O’Neill explaining that the short-term deal was for both sides to decide whether he can make an impact. McFadden is likely to be eligible for Tuesday’s Capital One Cup derby with Middlesbrough – although he is still short of match sharpness.
The former Scotland international is confident that he will be able to play a part between now and Christmas, when the deal expires.
“He’s getting there in terms of fitness, but it’d be doubtful if he’ll be involved on Saturday,” O’Neill said.
“He’s getting there. It’s a short contract that suits everybody because it gives him a chance and gives us a chance to look at him. If he hasn’t broken through or looked like breaking through in that time then he wouldn’t want to be hanging around, knowing James.
“I hope in this time with the games we have it’d be quite surprising if he wouldn’t be involved somewhere between now and Christmas.”