Four starts for Manchester United, four wins; a late headed clearance off the line on his debut, firmly sealing Romelu Lukaku in his back pocket in his second game, being part of a back four that kept a Premier League clean sheet (which is far more impressive than it sounds at Manchester United), and most recently, coming away from the Emirates on the winning side.
In other words, Paddy McNair has enjoyed an excellent start to a very promising career at Manchester United. On the eve of Manchester United’s encounter with West Ham, the first match following their capitulation at Leicester, speculation was rife in terms of who might fill the ever-void right sided CB role.
As the time approached for Manchester United’s twitter account to do their fancy little picture of the line-up to take on West Ham, the general consensus was that it would be Tom Thorpe who would make his debut (not Paddy McNair).
But not for the first time we were all duly proved wrong by Louis van Gaal’s selection – this unknown Northern Irish teenager was set to go up against a West Ham front-line which had swept aside Liverpool just a week earlier.
However, as Louis van Gaal’s tenure has gone on, it has become rather clear as to why Paddy McNair has been chosen instead of the more senior and acclaimed Tom Thorpe. The reason Louis van Gaal favours the former is purely down to the fact that he is van Gaal’s sort of player; in other words, he is disciplined, resolute, and most notably uses his brain – Paddy McNair isn’t the sort to unnecessarily look for row Z every time he comes under a bit of pressure, which is an attribute commonly associated with the likes of Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, even Rojo at times.
Not only is Paddy McNair a good reader of the game, he’s a genuinely assured character who isn’t afraid to get on the ball and make things happen – against Crystal Palace, he looked to assert himself on the game in the second half, making some surging forward runs and providing the impetuous to kill the game off. The central defender made 2 key passes and had 80 touches of the ball; very rarely had a CB looked so confident in a Manchester United this season.
The reasoning behind his equanimity emanates from the fact that McNair grew up playing as a central midfielder when he was younger. His level headedness and reluctance to dive into tackles shown in his 5 appearances in the senior team is testimonial to the way he’s developed as a footballer. By saying this I’m not implying in any way that he is a soft touch, either. His cleaning up of Jack Wilshere last Saturday depicted his ability and desire to put in crunching tackles.
With Paddy McNair becoming a more refined CB every game, his experience in the middle of the park is most definitely serving to help him stake a claim for being a genuine contender to be a regular starter at Manchester United. Whether Louis van Gaal holds that view as well remains to be seen; once Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Marcos Rojo return to the side it will be somewhat awkward for the manager, leaving out Paddy McNair following such strong performances would be somewhat unjustifiable.
With that said, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that young players are a different sort of mustard. They’re more temperamental and naïve, fatigue in a way that is unlike the way 27 year olds fatigue, and have a generally more fluctuating mind-set.
Overplaying them can be detrimental to their progression and underplaying them can be equally damning; the balancing act required with the utilising of youngsters isn’t something alien to Louis van Gaal – and with the constant injuries occurring in Manchester United’s defence, Paddy McNair could naturally get a healthy number of games for somebody of his age with Phil Jones injuring himself every 4 games or so.
He may sit out for something like 3 games and then play something like 3 games, staring in home games against lesser opposition, providing the defensive injury trauma eventually ceases at Manchester United. If it doesn’t let up then he’ll have no choice but to play more or less every week. For his sake, let’s hope that doesn’t become the case.