James McClean warned by Tony Pulis he must face the English flag
James McClean has been warned by his club that another show of disrespect for the English flag will not be tolerated.
The Londonderry-born Republic of Ireland international has yet to play a competitive game for West Bromwich Albion - but is already facing an uncertain future at the Premier League club after turning away from the cross of St George flag while the British national anthem was being played prior to a friendly in the United States.
West Brom have now made their feelings public courtesy of a strongly-worded statement on the club's website from manager Tony Pulis.
"I've seen the pictures and he's got to turn towards the flag like everybody else has, and he recognises that," said Pulis.
"He thought he was okay to close his eyes and put his head down in respect of both anthems. The trouble is he's got to face the flag."
Pulis, who risked incurring the wrath of Baggies fans earlier this summer by signing the controversial winger from Wigan for £1.5m, added: "Obviously there has been a stigma around him and he doesn't need to start that up again.
"So hopefully we've nipped it in the bud and we can get on with our things and he can get on with his things. I think the fact he's part of what we're trying to do is important."
West Brom were well aware of the Creggan footballer's refusal to wear a poppy on club shirts in the run-up to Remembrance Day and were not prepared to make an issue of it.
But club executives are understood to have been taken aback by what happened in Charleston, South Carolina, at the weekend.
McClean's gesture prompted a furious reaction on social media, with some fans calling on the club to sack him for showing disrespect.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell also told the Belfast Telegraph that the 26-year-old, who represented Northern Ireland at various junior levels before opting for the Republic, should either desist from setting himself up as "a controversial pseudo-political figure" or quit English football.
But his stance was defended by SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan and by Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes, who said: "I will back James or anybody who stands up for what they believe in.
"He's being tortured online for this and other things he stands up for. Whether people agree with what he did or not, they need to just accept it and get on with their lives."
McClean seemed unaffected by the controversy when he took to the field for West Brom's final Stateside pre-season game against Richmond Kickers in Virginia, scoring a spectacular early goal in a 2-1 win at the City Stadium.
On his Twitter account McClean wrote: "I don't need to say anything or will I either, but maybe people should have a read of this man's article", directing followers to an online blog by Alexander Netherton on Yahoo Sport which defended his actions.