Manchester United were led in their 1-0 FA Cup third round victory over Watford at the weekend by a new skipper – Scott McTominay. It has been a momentous 12 months for the 24-year-old midfielder, who could be on the cusp of a glorious career.
Born in Lancaster, the midfielder has opted to play for Scotland at international level, qualifying through his Helensburgh-born father. He was an integral part of Steve Clarke’s squad as they successfully qualified for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, sealing a spot with a memorable play-off victory on penalties over Serbia.
McTominay played has played right-sided centre back in most of his 19 appearances for Scotland, highlighting his versatility. Although a natural central midfielder, he added an attacking dimension to the Scottish right flank, combining well with wing back Stephen O’Donnell. He also converted his spot kick in the penalty shoot-out against the Serbs.
His set-piece defending was at fault for a couple of goals, but his overall performances have shown a maturity and adaptability that has seen him secure his niche in the Scotland side. It will be interesting to see him play against England at the tournament, when he is sure to face several of his Manchester United team-mates.
It is a sign of that maturity that his club manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chose to award him the captaincy at the weekend. The manager was rewarded by McTominay scoring the game’s only goal with a stooping header, the player’s fourth strike of the season.
After praising his “great character”, Solskjaer highlighted McTominay’s commitment to hard graft and improvement. “He's not afraid to be vocal but always goes out there to give his best, never shirks a tackle, nothing. He's got everything a leader has to have,” said the manager. Previous United manager Jose Mourinho, a fair judge of a player, also used to hail McTominay’s character.
That work ethic is key to McTominay’s character. He is not blessed with world-class skills or lightning pace, nor is he a master of positional play. He is, though, an intelligent and hard-working player who sets an example to the men around him. He played as a striker during his youth career, another sign of his adaptability.
Versatile, and clearly possessing a good football brain, there are perhaps echoes in his play of Darren Fletcher. Fletcher was another versatile midfielder who captained Scotland. Often underrated by fans, Sir Alex Ferguson relied on Fletcher to produce grafting performances on the big European nights and he was rarely, if ever, let down. McTominay is probably a better all-round player than Fletcher, but he can certainly find plenty to emulate in his predecessor’s career.
There are still areas of McTominay’s game for him to work on. At international level, if he is to continue as a defender then he needs to sharpen up his awareness and positioning. This is particularly an issue at set-pieces. There are also weaknesses in his game when it comes to retaining possession – something that was highlighted by the misplaced passes he hit in the game against Watford.
McTominay has further challenges ahead of him, but he is reaching the point of his career when he can move to the next level. He looks like one of those players who may move through several positions during his career, the type of player who adds to a team with his presence and personality as much as his skill. One of those players for whom it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what they do, but the team never plays quite as well when they’re not there.
The signs are good for this somewhat unassuming player. It will be fascinating to see how he develops over the course of the season, especially with an international tournament to relish in the summer. He certainly has all the tools at his disposal to become a United legend, emulating great Scots like Denis Law, Brian McClair, Paddy Crerand and Fletcher.
As far as Manchester United’s season goes, that win over Watford has put them in the fourth round of the FA Cup. If you think that the Red Devils can go all the way and win the trophy, Unibet have them priced at 12/1, odds that might look a little long. Unibet also have United priced at 7/1 to win the Premier League, and at 33/100 for a top four finish.
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