Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill hoping Jose Mourinho will give Paddy McNair a chance

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is hoping that new Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho gives Paddy McNair an opportunity to establish himself at Old Trafford.

Mourinho has taken over from Louis van Gaal and arrives at United with a history of selecting tried and trusted players rather than giving kids a chance.

O'Neill admits he expects the Red Devils to buy big in the summer, increasing competition for places, but believes McNair's performances for Northern Ireland will give the former Chelsea boss much to ponder.

McNair has delivered fine displays as a holding midfielder when called upon by O'Neill and is in a battle with Chris Baird for a starting slot at Euro 2016.

Against Belarus in Friday's 3-0 victory at Windsor Park, not for the first time at international level, McNair looked composed. It will be interesting to see if he starts ahead of Baird in Saturday's game in Slovakia - the last friendly before the Euros.

"Paddy has great versatility," said O'Neill. "We started him in the holding midfield role against Belarus and in the second-half when Steven (Davis) came off we pushed him further forward because he's capable of doing that.

"He looks very comfortable playing at this level despite his inexperience at club level.

"He's trying to get into a side at United full of world-class midfield players, midfield players that his club have paid huge amounts of money for, so it's a difficult scenario for him.

"He doesn't just give us versatility, he gives us real quality. He's powerful, he can cover the ground, he has pace to get away from people and, most importantly, he's just a good footballer.

"You see it every day in training, he plays well, he trains well, he applies himself well. He's been great for us."

And on impressing Mourinho at Old Trafford, remembering that it was Van Gaal who gave him his debut at United?

O'Neill said: "I would expect United are going to spend money on that area. The previous manager saw him as a centre-back and I don't think that's his best position having worked with him even though he can play there.

"Paddy faces the dilemma that I suppose Jonny Evans faced and that they all face. When they come here and play they never let us down and Paddy's building his reputation every time he comes onto the pitch with us.

"The good thing is, I think United see that. Speaking with the people at United they've been impressed with the games he's played for us and I hope he can make an impression on the new manager."

In an Austrian training camp this week, O'Neill is working on systems and tactics. There is a feeling that playing three at the back is the way the manager is veering for Northern Ireland's opening Euro 2016 clash with Poland in Nice on June 12.

"It is an option," said O'Neill. "We've been given a dilemma because of the injury to Chris Brunt because we don't have an out-and-out left-back that could currently fill his role. The solution is to ask someone to play there or look at three at the back. I think it depends on the opposition as well and how they play.

"In Robert Lewandowski we have to take care of the best centre forward in the world, or certainly one of the top two or three, when we play Poland.

"We have to play Ukraine who have excellent wide players as well. What we're trying to do in these games since qualification is to give flexibility so the players understand they can change easily between two systems.

"We worked on it through the week. They're comfortable, and that's a good thing because sometimes you're chasing a game and you just have to go three at the back.

"But if you haven't done any work on it you're just gambling and hoping that it works. If we start with a four and have to go to a three then I think we'd be comfortable doing it, and vice-versa."

Belfast Telegraph