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Almost six months on - did Paddy McNair make the right decision to swap Sunderland for Boro?

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It’s been nearly six months since Paddy McNair left Sunderland and joined Middlesbrough - after starting just twice in the Championship, Matty Crichton looks back at what might have been and ponders whether the Northern Irishman might have regretted leaving.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Poll

Do you think Paddy McNair made the right decision to leave Sunderland?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Yes
    (213 votes)
  • 83%
    No
    (1110 votes)
1323 votes total Vote Now

Following our relegation to League One, Paddy McNair opted against aiding Sunderland’s revolution and instead chose to join Tony Pulis at Middlesbrough in a £5m deal.

Whilst owner Stewart Donald had made it clear on numerous occasions that he’d have liked McNair to stay and be a part of our future, news eventually filtered through that the former Manchester United midfielder had, via his agent, asked to leave, so a deal was agreed and he moved on.

Things haven’t exactly gone to plan for McNair since then and, having found minutes on the pitch tough to come by since he arrived on Teesside, I can’t help but feel that the Northern Irishman made the wrong decision to leave.

What frustrates me so much about this situation is the fact McNair had set himself up to be the main man at Sunderland this year - he scored four goals in his last five league games which made an injury-plagued two seasons easy to forget.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship
McNair was in excellent goal scoring form towards the end of last season scoring 4 in 5 league games.
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

He appeared to be the type of individual who could play a lead role in our revival; a potential captain and one of the first names on the team sheet. And whilst we’ve enjoyed a fantastic start to the season, when you look at our current side you can’t help but feel that a player like McNair - with all the height, presence and stature of a top athlete - would have fit in just perfect in a position where we’ve struggled to select consistently due to injuries and suspensions.

Since joining Boro, McNair has made only two league starts out of a possible twenty and has failed to complete ninety minutes in the league for his new club.

Pulis’ side currently have the best defensive record in the league, which has restricted the utility player to just starting in Carabao Cup games. His lack of minutes also led to him losing a starting place in Northern Ireland’s recent fixtures against the Republic of Ireland and Austria.

Although you could defend him by arguing he is being kept out of a successful team sitting fourth, if his opportunities don’t come soon when will they?

It goes without saying that the best players are the ones who play whenever they’re fit. They suffer if they’re not frequently involved, so what harms McNair’s career prospects more - warming the bench for a team in the Championship, or playing every week at a level where you’d expect he’ll thrive when given the opportunity to show what he can do?

Fulham v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Surely McNair would have further prospered from being a lead player in a Sunderland team gunning for promotion as opposed to his current predicament? We’ve seen in the past teams like Southampton and Bournemouth go from League One to the Premier League in two or three seasons - it’s not totally inconceivable that we could be playing in the same league as our Teesside neighbours very soon, by which point the decision made by McNair to move on would look even more silly.

I think in modern football, especially at a higher-level, loyalty is proving a rare trait as players are less focused on their game time. Players arguably favour quick-fixes and often are not willing to commit to long term projects, as we are seeing from our struggle to nail down our best players to sign new contracts.

I understand at present Middlesbrough are a better team in a better league, but if you are not playing regularly does that really count for anything?

In a season where Sunderland have been vulnerable to more physical opposition, McNair would have been perfect in midfield alongside Lee Cattermole. I feel if he had been willing to be patient and accept we need a season to revive ourselves, that is a smaller price to pay than to not start matches regularly.

I have no doubt in my mind that Paddy McNair will one day will be a starter in the Premier League should he avoid any more long-term injuries, but I don’t think he made the right decision to leave Sunderland so soon.

Time will tell, of course, but it’s a little sad that he left the club only to regress in terms of the amount of minutes on the pitch that he’s been afforded.