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Dublin: -1°C Sunday 24 January 2021

McClean exit 'highly unlikely' as O'Neill challenges winger to regain his place

The 31-year-old has been omitted from Stoke City’s squad for both of their Championship fixtures this season.

Stoke City's James McClean tangling with Adama Traore of Wolves during last week's Carabao Cup fixture.
Stoke City's James McClean tangling with Adama Traore of Wolves during last week's Carabao Cup fixture.
Image: Nick Potts

STOKE CITY MANAGER Michael O’Neill says it’s “highly unlikely” that James McClean will leave the club during this transfer window.

Despite being voted the club’s Player of the Year last season, McClean has been omitted from the Potters’ squad for both of their Championship fixtures so far this season.

Having helped Stoke to upset Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Carabao Cup last week, the Republic of Ireland winger is expected to feature again when his club face Gillingham in the third round of the competition tomorrow night.

However, he has had to watch from the stands for league action. Stoke began their Championship campaign with a goalless draw at Millwall, before suffering a 2-0 home defeat to Bristol City on Sunday.

O’Neill dismissed suggestions on social media that McClean could be on his way to Scottish Premiership champions Celtic, although the ex-Northern Ireland boss did admit that Financial Fair Play rules would force the club to keep an open mind about potential offers for their players.

“I think that [Celtic speculation] is probably just a rumour that’s been created by someone, and it certainly hasn’t come from our end. James isn’t a player that we are looking to lose at this minute in time,” O’Neill told the Stoke Sentinel today.

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“The nature of the transfer window is such that you have to be flexible and if any situation arises with any player, you have to give it consideration, particularly where we are at this minute in time.

“We have to obviously deal with the rules of Financial Fair Play and deal with a squad which is bloated. James is no different from any other player in the squad and if the situation arose we’d have to consider it, but at this minute in time I think that would be highly unlikely.”

McClean’s cause hasn’t been helped by O’Neill’s decision to revert to a system that includes wing-backs, but his manager has challenged him to force his way back into his plans nevertheless.

After losing his place in the Ireland team for Stephen Kenny’s first match in charge – a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria earlier this month – the 31-year-old Derry native earned his 73rd senior cap as a substitute in the 1-0 defeat to Finland.

O’Neill added: “He can still be a key player this season, of course. I think you have to look at the background with James. He didn’t play in the last two pre-season games because he was away on international duty and he didn’t play when he was away on international duty either – I think he only played 15 minutes.

“In those two games, Morgan Fox played very well, both against Leeds and against Newcastle. All of those are situations that come into the equation when you come to pick your team.

“James, I didn’t feel, did as well in pre-season games as he could have done. I think he’s recognised that himself. Sometimes when you have to put your subs bench together you need versatility. That’s what we did with the subs bench on Sunday.

“Sometimes we read too much into the players who aren’t involved and we should perhaps concentrate more on the players who are involved. But equally James is a part of the squad and it’s up to him to force his way into the team.”

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Paul Dollery

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