Despite Manchester United’s up and down season so far, one of the brightest points has been the emergence of nineteen-year-old Northern Irish defender Paddy McNair. First called upon to step in near the beginning of the year when United was rocked by injury after injury, McNair has slowly begun to make a name for himself. Even a first half substitution against Southampton back on December 8 was not enough to derail his steady growth.
Though he began as a centre-back for Manchester United, the past three games against Cambridge, West Ham, and Burnley have seen the nineteen year old started as a right back, a role where he faces competition from both Valencia and Rafael. In several important fixtures for the Red Devils, I think it’s fair to say that McNair has proven himself quite nicely. While there will surely be sterner tests of his abilities than in the past few games, the young star has shown several of the most important characteristics that a team needs in a full back.
First off, he’s solid on the ball. He gives all the signs that he’s cool, calm, and collected when in possession, rarely giving away the ball. Furthermore, when he seems threatened by opposition pressure, he makes calm decisions that don’t needlessly put United into jeopardy. These aren’t qualities often possessed by young talent. Secondly, he shows a desire to get both up and down the field. Modern full backs are expected to be quite versatile, aiding in both attack and defense, and McNair fits the bill nicely. The past few games he’s made a couple of outside efforts that have had me sitting back wondering why the offence doesn’t take a few notes from his creative daring. Lastly, more important than anything, McNair is showing a gritty willingness to learn and get better. He hasn’t always been at his best, but it seems that he keeps getting better and better. That’s the mark of a real star.
It remains to be seen how the season will end for the Red Devils. Anything short of a Champions League spot will be bitterly disappointing, especially considering the massive amounts of money that were spent on improvement last summer. The truth is that if United are going to challenge for a top four spot, then the whole team could do well to show the willingness to work hard that Paddy McNair has developed. That boy may well have a bright future ahead of him, and Manchester United will do well to keep leading him towards the direction of stardom.