Wednesday 10 February 2021

Scott McTominay's coming of age

Scott McTominay scored the winner in Tuesday's night victory over West Ham to put Manchester United into another cup quarter-final.
The Scot came on a second half substitute and made the decisive difference with a match-winning strike reminiscent of his illustrious predecessor and idol Paul Scholes. McTominay arrived late in the box to strike home a finish in a manner that is quickly becoming the young Scot's trademark.

We're only in February, butt McTominay has already had his best season in front of goal for the Reds, becoming a key cog for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United. His goal against the Hammers was his third in as many games, following his header against Everton and edge-of-the-box effort in the rout of Southampton. 
It is perhaps no surprise that "McSauce" has found his scoring touch given he used to ply his trade as a centre-forward before being converted into a box-to-box midfielder by youth coach Warren Joyce during McTominay's formative years at the club. A sudden growth spurt only further championed his cause as the player shot up ten inches within a year, his 6ft 4 frame befitting all the attributes of the classic string-pulling midfield man. 

McTominay has always been something of a divisive - even derided - figure at Old Trafford, plucked as he was from obscurity and plonked into the midfield (and sometimes even the defence) as the symbol of Jose Mourinho's box-ticking exercise at United. Picked by the former United and current Spurs boss simply merely because of his height, McTominay struggled to win over the fans and earned a reputation as something of a "teacher's pet", a feeling only further emphasised when Mourinho invented his own prize for the young Scot at the club's end of season awards ceremony - a gesture that was perhaps meant with good intentions but one that only opened up more criticism for both player and manager. But now, two and a bit years on with Solskjaer at the wheel, the player is finally starting to get the respect, recognition and credit he deserves. 

McTominay was the epitome of Mourinho's United - with his good positioning, ball carrying ability and strength in the tackle earning him the trust of the notoriously hard-to-please Portuguese. His consistent inclusion in the line-up sparked disparaging questions and criticism - was he really good enough to be the answer to United's midfield problems? Especially when you considered that he was often selected ahead of Paul Pogba, a very public victim of Mourinho's ever-increasing meltdown. The fact one of the best players in the world, and one of the finest exponents of his craft (a World Cup winner no less) was being ignored in favour of a "passion merchant" with a seemingly limited skillset told you everything. 

Many thought that McTominay's influence on the team would start to wane once Mourinho was acrimoniously sacked in the final weeks of 2018. But, since Solskjaer's arrival and appointment as permanent manager, his influence and
impact has only gone from strength to strength. The first leg of the Champions League quarter-final in March 2019 looks to have been a seminal moment for the then 22-year-old when he seized control of the game with a performance of courage and maturity beyond his tender years. Against one of the greatest midfields in world football and in the esteemed, metronomic company of Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto et al, McTominay shone amongst a galaxy of stars. It was a night that made us sit up and take notice of the Lancaster-born Scot, the performance of a veteran on the biggest stage of all. 

 He has formed an industrial and combative grit-and-guile pairing with Fred at the heart of the Reds midfield, with the duo becoming Solskjaer's preferred choice in the engine room. "McFred" as they are affectionately known, appear to offer the best and most effective balance with the United system, as they give protection to the lack of pace of centre-backs Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, and the capability to break the lines and beat the opposition press on the counter attack. He might not have the flair or the easy on the eye influence of a Bruno Fernandes or a Paul Pogba but McTominay, United through and through, is the epitome of everything this club stands for and he always gives everything for the club he loves. Fred and Nemanja Matic toiled in vain for 73 soporific minutes on Tuesday against the Hammers, but upon the introduction of McTominay, he instantly increased the tempo, quickened up the midfield and United looked far more threatening in attack as he probed and pressed in the face of the Hammers low block.

The 24-year-old has continually showcased captain characteristics and should be seen as a FUC (Future United Captain) at some point in the future. The player hinted at his potential leadership qualities when he skippered a heavily rotated side in the third round of this competition and captain-for-the-night McTominay again came up trumps as he scored the winner to send United on their way against Watford. 

Far from merely being the lanky teacher's pet, McTominay has developed and come of age as one of this side's most important players. 

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