When James McClean arrived at The Hawthorns from League One Wigan, it was seen as a calculated gamble in many respects. However, as a winger that had Premier League experience and someone that had been a little under the radar with his skill and trickery, I couldn’t moan too much.
The key thing to remember with McClean is that he is definitely not here to start every game and be the star that Saido Berahino and Joleon Lescott were last season. Pulis has been much more coy over this deal – the former Sunderland man will likely sit on the bench for many matches, come out the dugout for an impact and start a few games when he hits form, and finds the moments that made him a man in demand.
As with every winger the ebbs and flows of form come and go, even the best have their off days and what arrives at the Baggies certainly won’t be the best. Many fans are still pinching themselves they have a squad with Darren Fletcher, Lescott and Ben Foster in, three players who have all played at the very top and enjoyed their fair share of silverware too.
Will McClean be fantastic, be a vital cog and set up and score loads? No, but we won’t put that type of pressure on him. We’re very much a defensive type of team and his work ethic suits Pulis, you know you’ll get him making those selfless runs back and working hard for the team instead of maybe a Stephane Sessegnon who can be more lazy and decide to let his man go. The tactical strategy Pulis employs means he needs players willing to give up promising positions at times, and the Irishman will do that.
Recently Albion played their first pre-season match. McClean started in Austria and in a game we lost 3-1 he played the 45 (Albion made 10 changes at the break so don’t read anything into that!) In typical Tony Pulis away day style it was a very structured approach from the Baggies. The defensive shape was key and the ‘park the bus’ approach meant we saw little of McClean, but there was one moment at the end of the half, his last touch in fact, that got me excited. He picked up the ball in his own half, drove at defenders, beat them and played Gardner in for a shot that went wide.
It’s just pre-season, don’t read too much into Ash I hear you cry. I certainly won’t but it does show something I haven’t seen in an Albion shirt for a long time. Firstly, pace, oh how we lack that, and secondly the ability to beat a man. For £1.5m he could be the bargain of the window if he can get the beating of his man enough times.
With Callum McManaman on board the wing wizards are back together and both can beat their man. They’ll both have a roller coaster season I’m sure, one month they will hit 7-8/10 and the next 4-5/10 but that is why they are with us and not higher up. We have seen some superb players on the wings of the stripes, Jason Koumas and Zoltan Gera when I was growing up, but if you look at the history of WBA players like Laurie Cunningham, it should be enough for people to realise that in B71 we appreciate a good wide man.
Of course we won’t get another Cunningham and for various reasons this transfer may not work, but for the calculated price and the ability he has previously shown, McClean was a shrewd signing as long as the next through the door is a Matt Phillips type. Someone a little more consistent, someone that has been in the top division more recently but someone that also shows the same physical attributes.
The key is McClean being the competition for a new man, should that happen I can’t actually see the downside to a deal for the Republic of Ireland international.