In the 2011/12 season of the Premier League, James McClean made a name for himself. Despite not making his first appearance until the hiring of Martin O'Neill in December, McClean - who had been signed in August 2011 by the man who preceded O'Neill, Steve Bruce - managed to sweep up Sunderland's Young Player of the Year Award for that season.
However, in the 2012/13 season, McClean's performances were simply not up to par, compared to his previous season. Later that year, he was sold to Championship newcomers Wigan, where he finds himself now. He took a pay-cut and a step down from the Premier League in the hope of a fresh start, as he explained to the Shields Gazette at the time:
Obviously things had gone wrong for me at Sunderland. I’m fully aware that I made mistakes, and while I would also admit to losing my confidence, I certainly wasn’t enjoying my football.
Now that Wigan have been relegated, Wigan's player of the year looks to find another fresh start. Like many Irishmen before him, McClean has reportedly turned to America.
Let's imagine everything works out perfectly and James McClean is out there wearing a New York Red Bulls kit. How does he slot into the team? What does he provide? What are his strengths?
In terms of where he'll play, McClean is a left winger - 100%. There is no other position on the pitch that would allow him to play to his strengths. This means that the Red Bulls get to use an actual winger on the left side of Marsch's 4-2-3-1, and no more Mike Grella awkwardly playing wide-man.
To get an idea of what McClean offers, I looked to Michael Graham of Roker Report, the SB Nation blog for Sunderland AFC. Graham described McClean's strengths as "direct running and crossing". Sounds a lot like Lloyd Sam, if you ask me. Graham also said that "If a striker...[has] good movement across defenders and can get on the end of crosses, he looks great." So, with a positionally aware striker in Bradley Wright-Phillips, McClean would flourish in the team.
This would also mean that Sam isn't the only crossing outlet in the team, and the team can play down the right and the left, safe in the knowledge balls will make it into the box from either side of the field. Graham also praised McClean's work rate and said the winger has a few goals in him.
Of course, every player has their weaknesses. The biggest concern over McClean is his attitude. Graham described his as "obtuse and petulant." That's not exactly what you want to hear of a player you've been linked to. Still, if McClean truly wants to get his career back on track and make a return to the Premier League, it's definitely something he'll have to work on.
Graham also stated that McClean's weaker right foot is "next to useless" and that McClean lacks trickery, relying on his pace and dribbling to beat his man. For a player of McClean's ability, this makes him no worse than Grella in terms of weaknesses. In fact, it suggests McClean complements Grella, who showed plenty of trickery for RBNY last week, and has a more than adequate right foot.
The biggest concern about McClean is the attitude. If he can adjust his attitude, then he could become a great player, for the New York Red Bulls.
With McClean in the team, the Red Bulls could potentially have one of the best, if not the best attack in MLS. A player who caught many eyes in the Premier League just three years ago moving to MLS at the age of 26 is a massive signing.
Of course, nothing is for sure right now. As reported recently, McClean's fee could be nearly $4m. That's a lot of money for a player with attitude problems, moving to one of the biggest cities in the world, where it could potentially become even worse. However, it also could be a bargain for a player who has shown the world he is capable of playing in the Premier League. Michael Graham stated that McClean "would need to do something spectacular...to get Premier League recognition." Well, MLS is certainly a stage where the spectacular can happen. BWP, Lloyd Sam, even Luke Rodgers have all boosted flagging reputations at RBNY. And none of them arrived with McClean's recent pedigree, or relative youth.
The stage is ready. It's up to the Red Bulls to get him here.