James McClean will captain Ireland in Friday’s friendly against Mexico, according to The Irish Independent.
The 28-year-old is due to win his 50th cap for his country in what has been an emotional year for the Derryman.
McClean is Ireland’s top goalscorer in World Cup qualifying so far, scoring two against Moldova and hitting the crucial winner against Austria in Vienna. The West Brom man has also put in some fantastic performances, bringing his physical approach and passion to the pitch.
One of McClean’s standout performances came in March’s 0-0 draw with Wales where he put in a committed display in both attack and defence, laying a crunching tackle on Welsh talisman Gareth Bale early on.
The game came just days after the death of his dear friends Ryan McBride and Martin McGuinness. McClean was awarded with the Man of the Match award in what was a truly brave and honest performance.
O’Neill, who gave a young McClean his big break at Sunderland, praised the winger and spoke of his captaincy for the clash with the Mexicans.
“You know what, I think that it would be worthwhile doing it if that’s the case,” O’Neill said yesterday before the squad flew to America.
“It is his 50th, isn’t it? Yeah, if he starts the game I’m sure he will be captain. For the 50th for a start and because he’s got that great discipline about him which he just exudes whenever he plays.
“James will think he’s nailed on for it. James would think that.”
With Seamus Coleman out for the remainder of the qualifying campaign, the temporary captaincy is up for grabs. Although experienced heads like Glenn Whelan, John O’Shea or Jon Walters are expected to step in, Robbie Brady wore the armband against Iceland and now McClean will look to stake his claim.
The former Derry City player has shown maturity on and off the pitch in recent times and will no doubt savour the opportunity.
In what is a youthful squad, McClean will also be looking for a solid 90 minutes in New Jersey having been in and out of the West Brom side. Highly regarded by Tony Pulis, McClean will hope to carry some momentum into the crucial tie with Austria next month.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena