Norwich City star Kenny McLean reckons he is in the midst of his best year in football but admits it would have been even sweeter if fans had been there to share in the success.
The Cambuslang man guided the Canaries to the English Championship title on Saturday with a 4-1 win over Reading, having sealed their return to the English Premier League seven days earlier by confirming promotion.
That achievement has followed him signing a three-year contract extension at Carrow Road in September and an unforgettable Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with Scotland, which saw him net vital spot-kicks in the penalty shootout wins over Israel and Serbia to earn the national side a place at a major tournament for the first time in 23 years.
Amid the pandemic and a hectic season, McLean believes he’ll only really appreciate the achievements in the years to come.
But he admits the only thing that could have made the greatest year of his career even better would have been having supporters in the stadium.
In an exclusive interview with Lanarkshire Live Sport –which you can watch in full above – the 29-year-old midfielder said: “It’s been an excellent year and this year has been the highlight of my career.
“It started off with signing a new contract, then [qualifying for] the Euros and now promotion, so it’s been good.
“I think I’ll look back on it more in a couple of years as being really successful.
“I’m in the thick of it right now.
“Right now, it still seems a wee bit – not flat – but not as good as it could have been with the fans in.
“If the fans were in this season with what’s happened to me personally on the pitch, with the Euros and winning the league it would’ve been another level, but what we’ve done is still special.
“It’s obviously a good feeling to get the rewards after a tough season and to reach the goals and aims that we set out at the start of the season.
“It’s good to be back and we fully deserve it.”
It’s the second time McLean has tasted promotion success with Norwich, having helped them up in the 2018/19 season.
But this one means more.
“I feel I’ve really contributed more this time than I did a couple of years ago, when I missed a big part of the season due to injury when we got promoted,” he said.
“So it’s been a good season and I’ve felt good within that.
”We are still building as a club. We’ve got a really good group here, hopefully we can keep everyone together and maybe add to that in the summer and we’ll see how it goes in the Premier League.”
It could have been a very different season for the former Cathkin High School pupil, however.
Just days after the play-off success with Scotland in November, McLean suffered a knee injury in Norwich’s win over Middlesbrough that threatened to derail his season and potentially dash his hopes of being involved at the Euros.
He suffered a meniscus tear after twisting his knee and it was feared he would face four to five months out.
Thankfully for the former St Mirren and Aberdeen player, there was no need for surgery.
“At the time it was [a concern],” he admitted.
“When we originally looked at the scans, I was in a bit of pain and the scan result wasn’t ideal but we went and saw a specialist.
“In the end up it was only a few weeks and, thankfully for me, I didn’t miss too much and I was back involved in a few weeks.”
McLean has played 49 games in total for club and country since September and could see that figure push towards 60 if he is involved with Scotland in the summer.
He admits it has been a real endurance test this term with so many games crammed into this campaign, but he is just thankful to be doing the job he loves and realises not everyone has had that privilege during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen it throughout this season in football that muscle injuries are through the roof because it’s been demanding, but we are out here doing what we want to do,” said McLean has has three goals and six assists to his name this season.
“We grew up loving this game and we’ve still got the opportunity to play while others are obviously at home and can’t do what they want to do.
“We need to be a bit thankful for that and if we need to play a game every few days, we just deal with that.
”The injury side of things isn’t ideal, but it’s part and parcel of the game.
“The season is relentless.
”People always speak about the league and how non-stop it is.
”When you are right in the thick of things, you don’t think about it too much but when you start getting towards the end of the season the games can catch up with you a little bit.
”So it’s been tough, especially this season with everything being crammed in with the pandemic and stuff.
”But when you get the rewards at the end of it, it makes it worth it.”
Look out for our Euro 2020 preview with Kenny McLean later this month.