SUNDERLAND have opened contract talks with James McClean as the Irish winger’s reputation grows on a weekly basis.
The 22-year-old extended an impressive sequence when opening the scoring in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal. He has now scored or created a goal in seven of the Black Cats’ last eight Premier League games and in doing so established himself as a mainstay of Martin O’Neill’s side.
When McClean signed from Derry City on a three-year contract in August it was for a fee of £350,000, and with an eye to the future, rather than the present. He failed to make a single first-team appearance under Steve Bruce, the manager who signed him, despite the Wearsiders’ inability to sign the experienced left-winger he had targeted.
Since O’Neill replaced Bruce in early December, McClean has been involved in every game bar one, which he spent as an unused substitute. The former Northern Ireland captain famously watched his compatriot play a reserve game against Manchester United days after taking charge at the Stadium of Light, and decided he was ready to step up to Premier League football.
McClean’s form has since prompted speculation he would be named in the Republic of Ireland squad for their friendly at home to the Czech Republic on February 29, having transferred his allegiances to the country under the Good Friday Agreement.
Although that did not come to pass, the surprise which greeted Giovanni Trapattoni’s decision last week only served to highlight the qualities of a member of what is becoming an increasingly exclusive club – a genuine left winger.
With that in mind, the Black Cats are hoping to tie McClean to a longer, more generous contract to ward off interest from elsewhere, and reward the player for his progress.