City report card: The 'criminally underrated' Kenny McLean
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
From the highs of the City Hall balcony to the depths of despair at Barnsley. Kenny McLean is not a man for half measures.
Another Championship title win, and another promotion to the Premier League, should have formed the first part of a season to remember for the Scottish international.
A pivotal role in firing his country to their first major tournament since 1998, in December’s penalty shoot-out win in Serbia, appeared to have guaranteed him a spell of summer over-time.
That was until one challenge early in the second half of the final day 2-2 Championship title party at Oakwell changed everything.
McLean suffered serious knee ligament damage in a block challenge with Michal Helik, that saw him later hobble to the presentation table on crutches.
Those worst fears were confirmed a few days later by a 12-week lay off crushing his European Championship dreams. If there is a sliver of a silver lining it comes in the expected return to fitness prior to the new Premier League season.
But that will undoubtedly prove cold comfort when the eyes of the football world settle on England versus Scotland at Wembley in mid-June. What an occasion that is promising to be if a substantial number of supporters are allowed inside the national stadium.
The Scots might be cast in the underdog role but you can well imagine that would have suited the bullish, self-confident McLean to a tee. He is a fearless operator, who again this past season married athleticism with a degree of technical quality that perhaps is too often overlooked.
Barnsley again were the opponents in the reverse league fixture at Carrow Road, when he conjured an exquisite booming diagonal pass swept home by Emi Buendia arriving perfectly inside the Tykes’ box.
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It was a high tariff goal that may well be remembered best for the quality of the Argentine’s finish. But it owed just as much to the Scot’s vision and execution.
One should heed the wise words of his countryman, and arguably one of the better Premier League midfield operators at present, Aston Villa’s John McGinn.
“He’s a superb player and a brilliant team mate,” he said, speaking to the Scotsman publication after confirmation of McLean’s injury absence this summer. “He’s not always a guaranteed starter (for his country) but he’s always involved and someone a manager and his team mates can put their trust in.”
Maybe McGinn’s personal friendship coloured his reaction to the news of his former St Mirren colleague's absence from the Euros, but few in Norfolk would dispute his assertion McLean is ‘criminally underrated’.
Not perhaps by his club boss, Daniel Farke, who labelled him ‘indispensable’ after the last failed attempt at top flight survival.
Farke’s full quote centred on his belief only the Scot perhaps within the available midfield options in that particular Norwich squad had the blend they are striving to source in this coming summer’s transfer window; class and combativeness.
Certainly with Olly Skipp’s departure, and no guarantee of his return from Tottenham for another tour of duty on loan, McLean is a priceless commodity until City address that squad shortage in their makeover. Even then, do not expect the Scot to be edged from centre stage.
His Norwich career thus far has been a story where perhaps his full value is only appreciated inside the camp. Off the pitch, as those latest promotion celebrations underlined again following on from his legendary alcohol-soaked Mayoral procession in 2019, he is a vibrant, larger-than-life focal point.
But on the park he is no less influential. At 29, and with close to 400 league appearances north and south of the border, he should be at his peak.
For all Farke’s faith in young players he will know an experienced core is essential to avoid the same fate as last time in the Premier League.
It will take that and much more, of course, but when Farke looks around his squad ahead of the kick-off in August you can be sure McLean is one he will rely upon.