Why McNeil extension could be one of the signings of the window
A tough man to stop (photo: Getty Images)

Why McNeil extension could be one of the signings of the window

The youngster will stay at Turf Moor until at least 2023.

Chris Lincoln

It is estimated that only 1% of young footballing talent who experience professional academies make a living out of the game. And Dwight McNeil looked as if he could be another thrown on the scrapheap after leaving the Manchester United youth squad five years ago at the tender age of 15.

However, now 19, McNeil finds himself with the future of Premier League side Burnley firmly on his shoulders. The young winger celebrated a compelling few weeks by signing a contract extension that will keep him at the club until at least 2023 with the option of a further 12 months.

Bucking against the trend

The talented wide player signed his first professional contract in April 2018 after rising through the ranks in the Burnley Academy. Just a month later, he made his debut as a late substitute in the final game of the season against Bournemouth.

After an impressive pre-season, McNeil looked as if he had the talent to make an impact on the first team squad. He became just the tenth Burnley graduate to make a Premier League appearance - yet only three of those (Lee Dixon, Jay Rodriguez and Marc Pugh) have played more than 50 games and none of them contributed to a top-flight game for the Clarets.

With Sean Dyche's side entering Europa League qualification, the extra games appeared as though they could present an opportunity for McNeil in a small Burnley squad. Then 18, the winger came on to ignite a previously drab affair against Aberdeen, helping his side to progress.

McNeil would start and hold his own against both Olympiacos and Manchester United, the latter being his first Premier League start, as he impressed against two regular features of European football.

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Biding his time

Since then, McNeil has slipped back into the shadows and was limited to just an EFL Cup match against Burton Albion before Christmas. 

However, injuries and suspensions to Burnley midfielders have since given him a chance to shine and it is not a coincidence that the Clarets have turned their fortunes around with McNeil enjoying his progression.

When the youngster came on against Everton on Boxing Day, Burnley found themselves spiralling towards a 5-1 hammering - they were starting to look real possibilities for relegation after picking up just five points in 12 games. McNeil had played just 27 minutes during that period.

Dyche and Burnley needed something different and McNeil was played from the start in the next game against West Ham. He rewarded his manager by getting on the scoresheet within 40 minutes. Yet it was his confidence to attack the full-backs and ability to offer flair to a relatively direct Burnley side that really stood out.

McNeil would continue his form into 2019, assisting goals in the next two league games to help the Clarets climb further away from trouble. He has now started five successive games to cement his position as a key player in Dyche's thoughts.

The first of many?

Burnley have made no secret of their limited transfer budget so bringing players through the youth ranks must be an important part of their development plan.

Even those that did sign in the summer, the likes of Matej Vydra, Ben Gibson and Joe Hart, have failed to make a positive impact. Albeit from the Under-23s, McNeil is arguably Burnley's signing of the season thus far.

The winger is evidencing the traits of a successful Premier League player every time he is given an opportunity...confidence, ability, flair...and, at just 19, appears to have a great future ahead of him in the Premier League.