Why Middlesbrough should consider keeping Paddy McNair despite reported interest from Celtic, Derby County and Sheffield United
When Paddy McNair arrived at Middlesbrough just over a year ago, the club’s website described him as a ‘highly-rated midfielder’.
The Northern Ireland international joined the Teessiders from North East neighbours Sunderland on a four-year deal, yet 12 months later McNair’s future has been cast into doubt.
The 24-year-old has been linked with Celtic, Derby County and Sheffield United this week, following a frustrating debut season on Teesside.
McNair made just 16 appearances in the Championship under former manager Tony Pulis, and was often used to patch up Boro’s injury-hit backline, rather than in the middle of the park.
Back in April, Pulis praised McNair’s attitude and work rate during training sessions but, for whatever reason, the Welshman was reluctant to give the player a chance in central midfield.
It seemed a strange decision considering Boro’s lack of goals and McNair’s attacking potential, which he showed by scoring four goals in his final five games for Sunderland.
McNair showed more glimpses of what he can offer while on international duty with Northern Ireland earlier this month, when, in the 86th minute, he received the ball from outside the penalty area, skipped past a Belarus defender and slammed home the winning goal in a European qualifier.
That’s the sort of flair and creativity Boro lacked in their engine room last season, as preferred midfielders Jonny Howson, Mo Besic, Adam Clayton and John Obi Mikel scored four league goals between them.
When he did play last term, McNair demonstrated his qualities with the ball, content to dribble out from the back and look for forward options.
One major concern is McNair’s patchy injury record, which significantly reduced his playing time on Wearside after joining Sunderland from Manchester United in 2016.
Despite the fact they haven’t made a single signing this summer, those fitness concerns may tempt Boro to cash in, especially if they can recoup most of the money they spent on the midfielder a year ago.
Even so, with Woodgate keen to play attacking football and build around the club’s younger players next season, McNair’s potential shouldn’t be ignored.