Second season syndrome to blame for McClean's poor start, says O'Neill
22:07 GMT, 25 October 2012
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill admits winger James McClean may be suffering from second season syndrome.
The former Derry City midfielder has been struggling for form this season and as well as falling out with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni over abuse tweets he sent last month, is fighting to keep his Sunderland place at Stoke City.
But McClean has not even completed a full year in the Barclays Premier League and O'Neill indicated he may be suffering from homesickness, as well as living up to the expectations of his first extraordinary season in the English top flight.
Below par: McClean has failed to live up to his stunning start last season
The 23-year-old was still in Sunderland reserves when O'Neill arrived to replace Steve Bruce and then threw the player, who is from his own home town, straight into first action. He has barely missed a game since.
This week McClean's best friend Eugene Ferry, a back-up goalkeeper from Derry City, announced he will be going over to the North East to stay with McClean and ensure he stays clear of trouble.
O'Neill, who has welcomed the move, said McClean can cope with the additional pressure in his first full season to re-discover the form of last term.
The Sunderland boss said: 'I don't even know who James' best friend is. I'm delighted he has one and he did mention that there was someone going to come over. I've not got a problem with that and it's not a big issue. He's not five years of age although I've said to you he's 23 going on it!
'I just think he's been a little bit homesick, that's my thought. James might not go with that. Lots of things have happened to him and my annoyance with him was purely on the Tweeting aspect more than anything else, especially some of the choice language and picking Trapattoni's team for him.
'There's a difference to telling James to be a bit sensible but I don't think he's gone off the rails or anything. My concern is him playing well for us. If there's something off the field, then on a serious note I have to look at that. If he's happy with someone living with him then fine.'
McClean made such an impression last season that Premier League defences have started to double-mark him and force him on the back foot.
Phone a friend: O'Neill believes McClean could be a little homesick
The Ireland international’s dogged
perseverance ensured he stayed on the field during the Wear-Tyne derby
last week, whereas England wide man Adam Johnson was substituted as he
too struggles to find his form.
O’Neill added: 'Against Manchester City, Zabaletta was straight in on top of him, right in and that's happened the first three or four times he's picked it up that's happened.
'It's a case of trying to find a bit of room for himself. All good wingers do suss it, to create space and see if there's anything over the top. He's had no apprenticeship at all and it takes a bit of time.
'If you're being heavily marked, then you have to realise there should be space for someone else. Utilising that space when you don't have the ball is very valuable. Of course he's still going to be judged by what he does on the ball. He's capable of coming right through this season and doing well.
'Did I think these things would happen to him Of course, everyone of us thought let's see what James does in his second season and it's interesting. Do I think he's got the capability to get over that Absolutely.
Best foot forward: McClean has plenty of time to turn his season around
'Teams and individual full-backs are paying him a lot more attention and that's a natural thinking. Someone picks the ball up and goes past you one season you're going to make sure next time round that you deal with it. It's how James deals with that.'
Meanwhile O’Neill has confirmed that Scotland international James McFadden is on the verge of signing for Sunderland today.
The 29-year-old former Everton striker, who is a free agent, will sign a deal until the January transfer window and has until then to impress Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill to win a longer contract.
McFadden, who has been on trial at the Wearside club for more than a month and played in two behind-closed-doors friendlies, could be eligible for Sunderland’ s clash at Stoke on Saturday.
O'Neill said: 'It's a short contract that suits everybody because it gives him a chance and gives us a chance to look at him. If he hasn't broken through or looked like breaking through in that time then he wouldn't want to be hanging around knowing James.
'I hope in this time with the games we have it'd be quite surprising if he wouldn't be involved somewhere between now and Christmas.'