Belfast Telegraph

Paddy McNair fancies taking centre stage at Manchester United

Running the show: Paddy McNair excelled in the holding midfield position against Slovenia
Running the show: Paddy McNair excelled in the holding midfield position against Slovenia

By Steven Beacom

Manchester United star Paddy McNair has revealed that he would love a shot at occupying the holding midfield role for his club after impressing in the position for his country.

The 20-year-old was asked to anchor the midfield by Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill in friendlies against Wales and Slovenia recently and did a fine job as his home country extended their unbeaten run to 10 games, beating the previous record set by Billy Bingham sides in the 1980s.

The experienced Chris Baird played just in front of the defence for the majority of the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but now the Derby County ace, on loan at Fulham, has serious competition for the slot ahead of the finals in France.

O'Neill was delighted with the contribution of McNair in last week's 1-1 draw in Wales and Monday night's 1-0 victory at home to Slovenia as the youngster provided a protective shield for Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart when the system was 3-5-2 and also when it was switched to 4-3-3. He also displayed his ball playing qualities in the middle of the park, working well with skipper Steven Davis and Oliver Norwood.

McNair enjoyed it so much that he would welcome an opportunity to play the role for United in the remaining months of the season and in years to come.

Old Trafford boss Louis van Gaal gave McNair his first-team debut last season and now the Ballyclare man has 27 United appearances to his name, though most have come when he was selected at centre-back.

With Michael Carrick in the autumn of his career, perhaps McNair could solve a problem for the Red Devils long-term and save them millions of pounds in the process.

Short-term, as United bid to finish in a Champions League place, with German star Bastian Schweinsteiger ruled out for the rest of the campaign, McNair would welcome the opportunity to be centre stage.

"I am learning about the holding midfield position and really enjoy playing it for Northern Ireland," McNair told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It is sort of new to me but I have good players around me in Gareth, Craig and Jonny in defence and Steven and Ollie are beside me in midfield so they make my life a lot easier and help me through the game.

"A lot of people said when I was growing up that I would end up in midfield and to have played there a few times at international level is great.

"I started playing centre-back for United and maybe now people see me as a centre-back but personally I think I'm more of a midfielder.

"If I had the chance to play the holding midfield role at United that would be fantastic.

"If I'm told though to play centre-back, right-back or wherever, I'll be happy enough because I want to play games.

"I've had a lot of injuries this season which haven't helped so my aim is to keep working hard at the club and get as many matches as I can until the end of the season.

"We have Everton on Sunday and if I'm involved that would be great. I really want to keep my fitness up for the Euros and go into that tournament feeling confident."

McNair chuckled when the topic of conversation switched to Northern Ireland breaking an unbeaten record that had stood since the 80s, a decade when Northern Ireland qualified for two World Cups.

He said: "I wasn't even born in the 80s. I was born in the 90s but of course you hear things about those great teams from the past and it is fantastic for us to break their record.

"After the Wales game we knew that we could make history against Slovenia and we were really pleased to do it.

"We worked very hard and once again were difficult to break down. I think that works for us and that's how we win games. Hopefully we can break even more records over there.

"It is fantastic for us to be going to a major tournament for the first time in 30 years. I'm happy and proud to be part of it.

"You can sense the whole country is on a high and we want to go to the Euro finals and make a real impact."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph