Belfast Telegraph

Gareth McAuley open to move abroad as West Brom future hangs in the balance

Big G out to put himself in shop window and prove Baggies were wrong to leave him on the sidelines

By Paul Ferguson

Even in the plush surroundings of a luxury Panama hotel, 5,000 miles from The Hawthorns, Gareth McAuley can't hide the frustration of the last 12 months at West Brom.

A club he served with such distinction over the last seven years abandoned him when he feels he could have still made a valuable contribution in their battle for Premier League survival.

West Brom dropped into the Championship and McAuley was given only eight starts by three different managers.

The fact he is 38 years of age and the oldest outfield player in England's top flight should not have stopped him playing a role for West Brom, as he argues he feels exactly the same as when he was winning Player of the Year awards just a few seasons ago.

"I want to play next year - I've not spoken to West Brom and no one has been in contact with me since the end of the season. I haven't been told, 'We want you there, or we don't want you'. I'm not sure what the club is thinking about me," said McAuley, who will win his 78th NI cap against Panama.

"But I still feel I can play. I don't feel any different to three or four years ago. That's the frustrating thing. If I felt I couldn't run anymore, it might be an easier decision. Things are still fine."

McAuley started only five Premier League games during a campaign in which West Brom were relegated from the top flight.

"It's been a difficult season, not having played very much, and it's the first time I've really experienced that," he said.

"I am very frustrated as I thought I could have helped more than I did. But it's out of your hands if you are not playing. Ending in relegation is gutting, especially after seven years I've had at the club.

"I was trying my best to get back into the team but the reasons I was being given for not being included didn't sit well with me. In saying that, everyone wants to play and if you are not then you still have to support the boys.

"It was very frustrating, as were the answers I was getting back. But you have got to respect that, got to respect the lads who are playing and keep your head down, and if you are asked to play, then try and do what you can."

McAuley's agent is scouring the country for a new club and the no-nonsense centre-back would even consider moving abroad to further his career.

"It's not particularly important to stay in the UK," admitted McAuley. "If I have to leave West Brom then I have to move my kids and my family anyway, so going abroad would possibly interest me.

"But it doesn't have to be somewhere warm, I just want to be playing regular football. Hopefully I'll have a couple of options. I'll make the decision on whether I am going to play more, rather than sit around."

McAuley's friend Aaron Hughes, in recent years, has played in Australia and India, but it's unlikely those two countries would come into his thought process.

He added: "Hughesy enjoyed his time in Australia but he also found the football frustrating at times, the structure and infrastructure around the game. So I would have to consider things like that and everything would need to be right.

"That would be a short-term thing, so going somewhere that far wouldn't really appeal to me.

"I just want to play and I think I can still do that. It's been difficult but as frustrating as it was, I was actually able to look at the games in a different way, watching lots of games and trying to educate myself and make the best out of the position I was in."

As regards his international future, the former Coleraine defender isn't set to turn his back on the green shirt.

"I'll continue playing as long as Michael O'Neill continues to select me for his squads. International football tends to retire you, rather than the other way around," he said.

"I've got friends, who I played with, in coaching and they are saying to me to just keep going because the coaching side of things is a lot less enjoyable than the playing side."

McAuley is in Panama for Northern Ireland's Central America tour and with boss Michael O'Neill still believing the Larne man has much to offer, he will take his place on the pitch against the rookie World Cup finalists tomorrow night at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

The former Ipswich defender adds much-needed experience to the squad, who are missing at least 10 regular internationals and with five players who are still to make their senior debuts.

McAuley added: "It's a trip I was always going to come on because it is important to be here because Michael wants to bring in new players and they need to get a feel for the international set-up and as a senior player you can spend time socially with them as well.

"It makes it easier when lads are coming into squads in the future and they feel a lot more comfortable. It's a worthwhile exercise. I hope to get minutes on the pitch and get the frustration from last season out of the system."

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Our coverage of Northern Ireland's tour to play Panama and Costa Rica is brought to you in conjunction with BetMcLean.

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