Few players in the Football League have had stranger careers than Paddy McNair. An unknown and unexpected debutant at Manchester United, an international player, a serious knee injury and two successive relegations.
It is easy to forget he only turned 23 in April and it should be no surprise he is in high demand this summer.
McNair made his senior debut for United in September 2014, aged just 19, due to a defensive injury crisis at Old Trafford. The Northern Irishman was played in the heart of defence, despite predominantly playing in midfield in United’s youth ranks, and made a vital headed clearance on the goal-line late on as the ten-man Red Devils defeated West Ham 2-1.
Boss Louis Van Gaal singled the Ballyclare-native out for special credit following the match, where McNair put it on a solid and dependable display, without nerves. Indeed, United won their first six matches with the converted defender in the side. It was the club’s youth coach Paul McGuinness who initially saw McNair’s defensive talent and compared his skill-set to that of Michael Carrick - calm and composed in possession, with tactical awareness.
He was even used as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation with Van Gaal suggesting McNair could prove to be the long-term successor of Gary Neville at Old Trafford, while he was also used regularly as part of a back three. Across his two seasons in United’s first team squad, the Northern Irishman clocked up 27 appearances.
Six months after debuting at Old Trafford, McNair won his first cap for Northern Ireland and he has since become a regular part of Michael O’Neill’s squads, who has now won 20 caps. He was included in the squad for the 2016 European Championships, starting the opening defeat against Poland and appearing as a late substitute in the victory over Ukraine.
The change of management at United ensured McNair was up for sale and he swiftly moved to Sunderland in a deal worth £5.5m, which included fellow youth product Donald Love. However, despite appearing regularly, bad luck was to strike in November as he sustained an ACL injury which ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign.
He returned the following season but despite a series of impressive performances - including finding a goal threat, with five goals, some of them sensational, in 16 appearances last season - he could not save Sunderland from their second relegation in as many years.
On the market
The Sunderland Echo hailed McNair as the club’s most important player and believed the only way the club could possibly retain him in League One would be to offer him the captaincy.
Reports since have confirmed Middlesbrough, who will again be pushing for promotion back to the Premier League next season, have lodged a £5m bid for the defender, which has been accepted.
Stoke City have also had a bid accepted for McNair and it looks like that may be where he is heading.
Brighton and Hove Albion are also said to have had two bids rejected for the international, with other clubs also holding an interest.
McNair has already gone through plenty of highs and lows but aged just 23, there is plenty more to come from the United youth product.
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