Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: Why I understood Louis van Gaal's tough call on Manchester United's Paddy McNair

By Steven Beacom

The decision to substitute Manchester United’s Paddy McNair early against Southampton was ‘tough’ on the teenager, but Michael O’Neill understands more than most why Louis van Gaal made it.

That’s because the Northern Ireland boss has been in exactly the same position, replacing a player before half-time for the betterment of the team.

While the 19-year-old Ballyclare boy certainly wasn’t the only under-performing player in the United side on Monday night, he was sacrificed after just 39 minutes and ruthless as it seemed, Van Gaal was proved right as the Red Devils ran out 2-1 winners to move into third place in the Premier League.

O’Neill, who included McNair in his last squad, watched with interest.

He said: “I felt for Paddy McNair. It is tough for a young player being in that situation. The thing about the game now is it is so public and let’s be honest this is a kid who has been fast tracked into playing some very difficult games for Manchester United at a difficult time.

“I have taken a player off in the first half myself in a similar situation. Managers have to make decisions for the benefit of the team and that’s why Louis van Gaal made that call.

“I’m sure it’s not the first time he has made that decision and while it is difficult for the player involved I understand why the United manager did it.”

O’Neill does not believe the substitution will have any lasting negative impact on McNair, who until the visit to Southampton had impressed when called upon during United’s defensive injury crisis.

“Every time Paddy has started for Manchester United, he has been on the winning side which isn’t a bad record to have,” said the former Shamrock Rovers manager.

“He will probably get a period now where he is out of the team, but I think what he has done is show he is capable of playing in the first team there and capable of dealing with the expectation and pressure that goes with that.

“He will come back okay from what happened on Monday. What the game highlighted was what Paddy needs to improve on and he knows that himself it is the defensive side.

“People should realise he is a midfielder who has only been playing in the back four for the last 12 months.

“He’s had to learn playing in defence in tough circumstances and while being taken off early on is difficult to take at the time in the long run he will be better for the experience.”

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