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Gareth McAuley

James McClean has always lacked judgement... but his latest action is indefensible

Gareth McAuley


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James McClean with Gareth McAuley

James McClean with Gareth McAuley

James McClean with Gareth McAuley

I've always tried to defend my controversial pal James McClean.

He can be daft, stupid and irresponsible but I know, from our days at West Brom together, he has a good heart.

When it comes to football, he is a terrific trainer, giving his all, pushing himself to the extreme and in some regards maybe does too much. Football wise, you will not find someone who works harder and his tackling is raw and full blooded.

He doesn't drink, looks after himself physically and it was this dedication that I admired about James at West Brom.

We obviously had major differences in opinion, especially politically and on the poppy, but were able to park that and be friends. While I didn't agree with him on all his stances, I could certainly understand where he was coming from, including when it came to not representing Northern Ireland.

I also knew he was easily led, lacked judgement and was constantly trying to impress people.

At Sunderland, he once bought at Lamborghini, without even having his driving test! Manager Martin O'Neill ordered him to return it.

On a West Brom trip to Barcelona, the one made famous with the players in the taxi, James ate a fish eye! We were in a restaurant and the waiters brought out an entire fish and proceeded to descale it up and serve it to some of the players.

James was egged on to eat the fish eye - it was like something out of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and the Bushtucker Trials and he munched his way through it as his team-mates cheered on. It was awful, but he did it.

Those things were silly. However, what James posted on social media this week, a picture of him wearing a balaclava while teaching his kids 'history', was stupid and deeply offensive.

He had to be encouraged to do it by one of his so called 'friends', I'm not convinced he would have thought of it himself. But he would have known it would have been seen offensive.

His club, Stoke City, were quick to act, fining him the maximum two weeks wages and ordering him to remove his Instagram account and as his friend, I can't defend him - it was needless and wrong.

I believe it undermines everything he has said about him being singled out and targeted when fans shout stuff about the IRA to him.

It throws a shadow of doubt over him and is anybody in authority going to take him seriously now?

It was ill-judged, he has brought this on himself and he now must deal with attention that didn't need to be coming his way.

I know for a fact the Professional Footballers' Association have tried to contact him and support him with regards the abuse he receives. But while James cries foul about not receiving help, he isn't interested in entering into any form of dialogue with the PFA.

Having played under Michael O'Neill, now manager of James at Stoke, he'll be fuming that an incident like this has placed the spotlight on one of his top players for all the wrong reasons.

The club have backed him so much in recent months that they'll think this is a slap in their face.

Michael will be annoyed that this is a distraction when the focus should be on supporting the country and NHS against this deadly coronavirus.

He prefers low maintenance players in his squads - that's why he is so frustrated by Kyle Lafferty.

James is a decent, talented footballer and I had a lot of time for him when we were together at West Brom. But his actions off the pitch have defined his career and that is incredibly sad.

He'll be remembered for being irresponsible, daft and lacking judgement.

And unfortunately due to his recent action, I can no longer defend the indefensible.

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Liverpool were on course to become champions for the first time in 30 years (Nick Potts/PA)

Liverpool were on course to become champions for the first time in 30 years (Nick Potts/PA)

Liverpool were on course to become champions for the first time in 30 years (Nick Potts/PA)

Expect thrills and spills when Premier League returns

When Premier League football eventually returns, you are going to see some howlers.

Two weeks will not be enough to get players up to speed after a long lay-off due to the measures put in place because of the coronavirus.

The players can train all they want at home in their state-of-the-art gyms, complete all the exercises laid out in their fitness plans from their clubs, but their match fitness will have dipped considerably.

It is understood that in just the space of two weeks, you can lose 10 per cent of your match fitness.

I'm talking sharpness, speed of thought, positional and spacial awareness - all things players have to excel at if they want to perform to a high standard in the top flight.

Since retiring from football last year, I've continued to train at home, I'm still fit and I could easily match the same 5k time in a run when I was a player.

But playing football is so much more than being fit and having ability.

Players, when this crisis is over, will not be given the time they need to get up to speed.

Football authorities, having lost so much time, will want the action to start as a soon as possible, probably offering clubs only two weeks to prepare for a host of games.

The players will be desperate to get back as much as the public want to see them in action.

But the paying fans and those watching on TV will need to be sympathetic as the quality will not be as high as it usually is for a period of time.

Think how long pre-season is nowadays during the summer and players come back superfit. It's a mental challenge as much as a physical one.

Clubs, of course, can give players mental challenges and academy players are often sent home with exercises to do during the course of the season.

But it's not the same as being at the training ground every day, having the best facilities, the best coaches encouraging you and being driven on my fellow team-mates.

Players are definitely going to be rusty.

Belfast Telegraph