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Black Cats Analects - For the Love of McNair

Sunderland fans don’t seem too keen on Donald Love and Paddy McNair, but there are some reasons to be.

Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Our best defender is demanding a pay rise, the club stays silent on its Yann M’Vila inactivity, and despite an academy spilling with talent, Sunderland AFC have coughed up a five-and-a-half million for the untested, unproven and unspectacular Patrick McNair and Donald Love.

That’s the gist of the last forty-something hours from Sunderland supporters. It’s as if the sheer notion of this particular piece of recruitment has all the subtext of some baffle-ridden decision making, especially alongside other and more crucial transfer matters elsewhere.

Then again, maybe this is okay.  Maybe, as a standalone bit o’ business, this could be a slower-burning, positive transfer deal after all. No, seriously. Look at it this way.

This is blatantly the work of David Moyes; the same David Moyes who made a managerial career out of turning untapped talent into in-form leaders.  That is the one skill of his managerial record you would usually rely on had he plucked some nobody from the European minor leagues, let alone known names from the Goliath club he was managing just three seasons ago.

Don’t take that at word though; just have a think on the £2.9 million Moyes spent on John Stones in 2013 and be encouraged by it.

And what good timing this is to bring in the Manchester United starlets.  McNair and Love, born back when you or I set target times on N64 GoldenEye, may have had expectations set of them but in the short lifespan of a footballer’s career they are completely unconditioned to any managerial philosophy.  Having two talented players south of twenty-two years old, neither knowing enough to know they don’t know yet, is just clay to be moulded however Moyes wants. That’s a good thing.

Then there’s the lads themselves.  Honestly, what does the more-jaded supporter know about Donald Love? Most of us know he’s an often-appreciated right-back, fewer of us know he can play centre-back, but you’d have to dig further to know he’s put in shifts on the right flank and in defensive midfield in his brief career.

Sure, most know him for Manchester United’s Europa League debacle in February at FC Midtjylland, but that’s one match of the 3,484 minutes he has played.  He gained plaudits last season at Wigan Athletic and he’s been contributing to the Scotland youth ranks since 2011, where he is well thought of.  There’s a hell of a crosser in this player and he’s a fine attacking player too, with one goal and three assists to date.  You can’t consider him a disappointment yet when he has done so little.

The same cannot be said, however, of Patrick McNair.

This one’s a little different, because Sunderland’s other arrival joins in the aftermath of an utterly garbage season (at senior level, anyway).  It has been standard scrutiny – McNair has merely just had exposure on a grander stage, and so has been vulnerable to more criticism than his defensive counterpart.

Unfortunately that also means some supporters have made their minds up about the Northern Irishman.  Their detractions are not without reason, though.  McNair’s 2015/2016 season started with senior squad appearances that barely left first gear, and ended with a woeful nothing-performance at Euro 2016 against Poland.

But it wasn’t a case of under-performing; it was that McNair’s form had faltered considerably from the standards he set the season prior.  Just check these comparisons between his 14/15 and 15/16 appearances: 68% down to 45% for tackling success rate; every 39 mins to every 62 mins per interception; his dispossession rate doubled; aerial dual win rate collapsed from 57% to 40%, pass success crumbled from an excellent 87% to a so-so 79%. These are still acceptable rates by our own teams’ standards, but that’s not the point.

Fortunately, it has been just one bad season of admittedly not a whole lot of playing time, and McNair – even now – still has no defined position yet.  We may know him as a centre-back but that hasn’t stopped him playing at right-back or in defensive midfield for club and country over the years.  If Moyes can coach McNair into a preferred position and get him to the form he showed two seasons ago, there won’t be much any of us can complain about.  One bad season does not a player make, and he’s still only twenty-one, man.

Also, that current versatility of both McNair and Donald Love should be considered a momentary advantage.  Should the youngsters be initially restricted to squad roles, for example, then it never hurts to have squad players capable of filling more than one position.

Look, the timing of this transfer is awful and has clearly played part in the underwhelming aura that surrounds the deal.  Supporters don’t want to see McNair and Love right now – its demoralising in its delivery after weeks of higher-valued assumptions.

However, there is a lot of promise with Paddy McNair and Donald Love.  Are they still both unproven on the Premier League stage? Yes, and £6 million would be an overvalued purchase at this time; but when youth players with high expectations are brought in by a manager who knows how to nurture their potential, then this looks more like a deal that can take Sunderland in a right direction, whichever way that direction is.

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