Bursting onto the scene rather surprisingly under Jose Mourinho, Scott McTominay is finally showing why the former Manchester United manager gave him the chance.
Scott McTominay arrived into the first-team with judgemental eyes on him, with a major portion of Manchester United fans bewildered and perhaps, a bit angry at how and why Jose Mourinho had chosen to give the young Scot a chance ahead of other arguably more talented academy stars.
They could have perhaps named a whole starting eleven that deserved a chance earlier than McTominay; at least two-three players in central midfield itself. But, it was young Scott that received his chance, albeit with much much more pressure than United academy graduates are usually under purely because of being preferred by the manager over others.
To the credit of fans, some were excited to see Scott and were hoping the midfielder will be something special; hoping Mourinho had noticed something in him. The 2017-18 campaign was where he was phased into the first-team setup, with McTominay ending up with 23 appearances in all competitions.
But, there was no oomph factor about McTominay and neither was there any poise that we come to expect from Manchester United academy graduates. There was nothing about the Scot that jumped right out the pages and that saw the midfielder be labelled as a gimmick by fans and pundits, who couldn’t quite gauge the real potential of McTominay; to be honest, nobody did.
By the time the 2018-19 campaign started, things went from bad to worse for McTominay, who was being handed starts despite the arrival of Fred, albeit as a centre-back as Jose Mourinho seemed like a man on a mission to prove to the Board how badly he needed a centre-back in the summer.
As usual, McTominay was made the scapegoat, with people questioning his mental aptitude to be a Manchester United starter. Jose Mourinho was soon given his marching orders and with the Portuguese gone, few expected the 22-year-old to retain his status at Old Trafford.
The youngster was straight-away out of the team and not even in the squad for the first few games Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge. McTominay was instead sent to the Under-23s to ‘enjoy’ regular football. It looked like the young midfielder would become another academy graduate who came into the fray in the first-team setup and then faded completely in the Under-23s before being sent on loans or earning a transfer to another club.
But, it was at this moment that the 22-year-old showed the spark that Mourinho had potentially seen. Not to be dogged down by the demotion to Under-23s, McTominay impressed in an advanced role and was soon called back into the first-team fray by Solskjaer.
“Scott McTominay has been brilliant in recent weeks.”
“He is arguably going to be Man Utd’s key ball-winner in the centre of the park.” 🔐
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 9, 2019
The midfielder featured in the win over Fulham. But, it was the match against Liverpool that changed it all for McTominay. Several players went off injured for Manchester United during the match but the 22-year-old looked solid in midfield as United earned a 0-0 draw.
With Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera both out, McTominay received an extended run; and boy did he take his chance well. The Scot looked confident on the ball, playing the Nemanja Matic role, who has been labelled as a bit lazy in terms of passing quite often. The Serb does get caught on possession a bit but the 22-year-old looked assured, surprisingly.
The Scot then delivered a decent ninety minutes against Palace. But, it was the match against Southampton that got people talking. In the time of need, McTominay stepped up and became the ball-winner Manchester United so badly needed in the middle of the park.
Scott McTominay’s game by numbers vs. PSG:
100% final third passes completed
96.2% pass accuracy
5/5 tackles won
4 ball recoveries
Bossed it. 💪💪💪 pic.twitter.com/0hlGLPKfwY
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 6, 2019
Perhaps, the Southampton game reassured Solskjaer that McTominay was the man for the job in Paris. Boy, did the youngster do a job in Paris! In a match where PSG made it difficult for United players to string together passes, with their constant pressing, McTominay looked like he was in training, only having eyes for his teammates.
The Scot has improved so much that a large portion of the Manchester United fans actually lamented Solskjaer’s decision to reinstate what looked like a half-fit Nemanja Matic for the game against Arsenal. From being labelled a gimmick to being wanted in the starting eleven over Matic in a match as big as the Arsenal one is a sure testament to how McTominay is changing people’s opinion.
The footballing world may revere the likes of Lionel Messi(s) and Cristiano Ronaldo(s). But, the truth is, even they cannot carry their team to victory in each and every match, although they do come closer to achieving that than others. The teams also need a sacrificial presence in midfield like Sergio Busquets.
A player who works under the radar; sweeps off danger and sprays simple effective passes to keep the ball ticking. A player who isn’t flashy but can do anything to help his team. While there is no comparison between Busquets and McTominay, Solskjaer can help the Scot become of a mould similar to the Spaniard, if not with the same degree of success or ability.
Being underrated or flowing under the radar is not criminal. And perhaps, we might be seeing a similar case in McTominay’s Under-18 and Under-23 days at Manchester United.
While it’s just a start for McTominay; he, Manchester United fans and Solskjaer would hope it is the start of something special for the ‘ordinary’ midfielder.