The Rise of Paddy McNair

From five million pound-man to make shift defender. Paddy McNair’s first season as a Middlesbrough player didn’t quite go to plan.

Tony Pulis brough McNair south from Sunderland, to Rockliffe before the start of the 2018/19 season. To most fans he looked to be the replacement for Mo Besic, who has spent the last six months on loan at the Riverside.

Middlesbrough announce the signing of Paddy McNair on June 26th 2018 | Photo Credit:

With Sunderland dropping down the the third tier, it looked like an astute signing, to pick off the Black Cat’s best player as they looked to rebuild in a lower league. It also made sense to replace Besic, as the Bosnian’s stock would be high following his previous stint with Boro.

Just two months down the line, however, and McNair’s starting place was under question, as the emergance of former factory worker Lewis Wing had just begun.

The Northern Irishman was pushed further down the pecking order as Pulis brought his compatriot George Saville to the North East from Millwall, in a deal believed to be around £8m, as well as securing the services of Besic for another 12 months.

Tony Pulis spent £12m on two central midfielders and loaned in Mo Besic in 2018 | Photo Credit: Derby County Official

Pulis had fought to sign Besic on a permanent basis also, but the demands of the player’s agent saw a deal collapse.

These deals left McNair out in the preverbial wilderness, and it took him until Boxing Day to get his first full 90 minutes under his belt in the Championship.

The luck of the Irish is self-made

When Pulis departed in May, McNair had played his way into the managers squad… playing the last four games of the season in centre back.

He was, however, brought to the club to be a midfielder. McNair has even specified that he was a ‘number eight, box-to-box‘ after joining. So the appointment of Jonathan Woodgate gave the Manchester United academy product a chance to show he should be part of the rookie managers engine room.

Jonathan Woodgate surveys from the sideline during his side’s exit from the Carabao Cup | Photo Credit: The Nothern Echo

Going into the first match against Luton Town, many fans believed the midfield would be constructed of Adam Clayton holding, with Wing and one other player out of McNair and Saville along side him – as Jonny Howson would be starting the match as right back.

Being given that opportunity, McNair has not looked back. His industry, both through the middle and down the right flank has caught the eye of many Boro fans.

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND – AUGUST 17: Paddy McNair of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough at Ewood Park on August 17, 2019 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

The Gazette’s Antony Vickers labelled him ‘criminally underused last season’ during Boro’s last match against Bristol City, while a quick search of ‘McNair #BoroLive’ on Twitter unearths mutilpe instances of fans pointing to McNair being Boro’s best player this season.

It is little wonder, then, that McNair receive 63% of our Player of the Month vote.

How does Paddy progress?

Hopefully, the only way is up!

He bagged his first Boro goal against Millwall on August 24th, just what he has deserved as he has gone close on many occasion since the opening match – he hit the bar in that game too!

Goalscorer Paddy McNair of Middlesbrough celebrates with Marc Bola of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Millwall at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Saturday 24th August 2019. (Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

McNair has only missed two minutes of game-time this year in the Championship, and Woodgate’s side looked devoid of leaders in midfield when he was on the bench for the Carabao Cup fixture in August, when Boro bowed out to Crewe Alexandre.

Ironically, against the team who – on paper at least – were Middlesbrough’s easiest opponents, the importance of McNair was most clear to see.

Clayton will always do his job in the middle of the park for Boro, but with Wing looking a little off the boil since his thunderbolt hit the back of the net in Bedfordshire, the importance of McNair’s stellar performances seem to be growing.

Two reasons why Middlesbrough shouldn’t sign Mo Besic in the summer.

It is being reported by the Daily Mail that Middlesbrough-loanee Muhamed Besic is likely to be sold by parent club Everton this summer.

The Bosnian spent the last 14 months in Teesside on a temporary basis and Boro, along with Turkish giants: Fenerbache and Besiktas, are keen on Besic’s signature.

Middlesbrough failed in the summer to secure the midfielder on a permanent deal and, with another season in the EFL Championship looking likely, would reportedly like to keep the former Ferencvarosi TC man in the North East.

Middlesbrough Midfielder Muhamed Besic (27) in action during the 2018 EFL Sky Bet Championship match between Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough at Portman Road, Ipswich, England on 6 May 2018. Picture by Stephen Wright.

Despite his great impact during the 2017/18 campaign, most Boro fans would agree this season has seen poorer performances from Besic. Despite this, the Bosnian still has two goals and five assists in all competitions – making him tied with Lewis Wing and Jonny Howson for the most assists for Middlesbrough.

So why would Middlesbrough not look to sign Besic permanently then?


According to the report, to sign the midfielder permanently it would set Steve Gibson back nine million pounds.

Only Martin Braithwaite, Jordan Rhodes, Afonso Alves, Marten de Roon and Britt Assombalonga have burnt a bigger hole in the Boro-born businessman’s back pocket.

Middlesbrough Chairman and Cheif Executive Steve Gibson and Neil Bausor watch on from the Riverside stands | Photo credit: GazetteLive

Current Middlesbrough-boss Tony Pulis, who brought Besic to Teesside in the first place, has already spent £13 million on central midfielders during his three transfer windows (Middlesbrough paid eight million pounds for George Saville following a 6-month loan, while Paddy McNair set Boro back five million pounds.)

The only other player that Pulis signed and paid a significant transfer fee, was the seven million pounds for Bristol City’s Aden Flint.

That is £20 million on three players. Could nine more be justifiably spent on another midfielder? Especially when this Middlesbrough side is crying out for more width, striking options and full-back depth.

It would be especially hypocritical of Pulis to bring in another player for big money after berating previous managers for doing just that.

Plus, with no more parachute payments for Middlesbrough, could this be done while keeping the club in the black?


The way this current squad of players has been comprised is rather bewildering.

Garry Monk spent big on strikers during his one window on Teesside, neglecting the flanks – relying on the academy and a frozen out winger brought in by the previous regime. The latter would go on to flourish without him in charge.

Pulis has strengthened the middle of the park, and not much else. Adam Clayton, Jonny Howson and Lewis Wing were all at the club before Pulis arrived in December 2017. Since then he has added John-Obi Mikel, Saville, McNair and Besic.

Even before Besic resigned on-loan, Boro were showing good signs in midfield. Lewis Wing racked up three assists in the first two games, while Clayton and Howson retained their spots from the previous year.

A change of formation has meant Besic has had to watch on from the bench at times this season, and if his deal was made permanent, this could mean young talents – such as Wing – are given less time on the field.

Paddy McNair and Lewis Wing watch as Wingn’s shot sails in to the net against Crystal Palace in the EFL Cup | Photo Credit: BBC

Overall, Besic has been a good player for Middlesbrough. On his day, he can be a different class (see Derby away in 2018 for the prime example of this.)

But this class has only shown in flashes, and if Middlesbrough are to go in a new direction, then he could be left by the wayside on Teesside.