James McClean or Michu, who would you sign? Niall Quinn on the day Sunderland bought controversial winger

James McClean in action at the Stadium of Light, fouling Wahbi Khazri. Picture by FRANK REID
James McClean in action at the Stadium of Light, fouling Wahbi Khazri. Picture by FRANK REID
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Niall Quinn today sung the praises of James McClean as he explained how Sunderland signed the colourful Irishman ahead of Michu!

The former Sunderland striker and chairman lifted the lid on the day the Black Cats signed the winger who can excite and cause controversy in equal measures.

Quinn said the arrival of McClean at the Stadium of Light came at the suggestion of Wearside goal legend Bryan 'Pop' Robson - on his first day as chief scout after leaving Chelsea to return to the North-East.

"Pop said 'Listen, there is a bargain out there that we were recommended to come and watch when I was at Chelsea'," said Quinn.

"It was a lad called James McClean at Derry City. Given the structure at Chelsea and James's age, Chelsea had decided not to pursue the transfer.

"There were a few other clubs looking at James that summer including Everton.

"Steve Bruce and I had never heard of James McClean, let alone seen him play, but it was Pop Robson's first day on the job, he was enthusiastic and it didn't seem like the time to knock him back.

"By the way, Pop also told us to sign a certain guy named Michu on that first day. Swansea fans will not be alone in remembering the 20-goal debut season that followed, but Steve and I chose James."

Quinn recalls with pride in his column on Sky Sports.com how £350,000 signing McClean was soon thrilling management and supporters alike.

And while Bruce left, successor Martin O'Neill, now of course his Republic of Ireland manager, was quickly a fan.

"Martin first saw James play for the reserve team in the glamorous yet windswept surroundings of Eppleton Colliery Welfare. Our reserves beat Manchester United reserves 6-3. That was in mid-week.

"That very weekend James made his first-team debut, coming off the bench against Blackburn in Martin's first game in charge, and he turned the game around. We came from behind for a win as many leaps of faith were well rewarded.

"It was as simple as just adding water. Instant folk hero."

McClean, the Republic of Ireland's two-goal hero last night in Moldova, did not last under Paolo Di Canio and joined Wigan for £1m before signing for West Brom,

"James is one of those characters who wobbles but always rights himself in the end," continued Quinn. "When Martin left Sunderland, James was gone not too long afterwards.

"He wasn't Paolo Di Canio's cup of tea and maybe, vice-versa,"

McClean has had his moments of controversy along his journey, the most notable being his refusal to wear a poppy on his shirt for Remembrance Day at Sunderland, Wigan and West Brom.

But Quinn said: "It's a funny thing but for all the controversies that have followed James since then, he seldom gets the credit for remaining true to who he is.

"The worry with a player who makes such rapid progress in the Premier League is that his head will be turned.

"The quiet lad you signed will be appearing in tabloids smoking a shisha pipe in some nightclub in Marbella at 4am with a pile of ne'er do well hangers-on who he didn't know two weeks previously. Not James."

Niaill Quinn's full column is at www.skysports.com