Manchester United Boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Lauds McTominay After His Coming Of Age Display Against Barcelona

Scott McTominay's value to his country, as much as his club, need not be in doubt any longer

He’s not the new Darren Fletcher. Not yet. Nor is he a like-for-like deputy to rampaging, World Cup-winning, multiple threat Paul Pogba.

No matter what Jose Mourinho thought.

But Scott McTominay’s value to his country, as much as his club, need not be in doubt any longer.

The kid has what it takes to play at the highest level. Be that in huge Champions League knockout ties against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain or in major qualifiers for Scotland.

At a time when so much criticism has been raining down upon national team boss Alex McLeish, then, we should all give thanks that his patient persistence pushed McTominay to choose Scotland over England.

In definitively deciding to represent the land of his father rather than the country where he was born and raised, the Manchester United player was showing faith in McLeish as well as his team-mates.

Well, when a man drives overnight through a terrifying blizzard just to make his case, it’s bound to carry some weight.

So, sure, the fact that McLeish didn’t start McTominay in Kazakhstan – when the Scots were crying out for a natural defensive midfielder who could also use the ball – is bound to irk.

Even allowing for the tummy bug that possibly made even his involvement from the bench a bit risky.

Just over a year ago, remember, McLeish braved the Beast From The East – as the Met Office dubbed the freezing storms that swept across the UK – to drive to Manchester and meet with McTominay.

Although the Scotland manager insists there wasn’t much he needed to say to nudge the youngster over the line, he handled it well. Right down to giving his prospective player time and space to think about all of the available options.

Seven caps into his international career, the 22-year-old’s performance against Barcelona at Old Trafford on Wednesday night will have convinced any wavering Tartan Army regulars that McLeish landed a good ‘un.

New United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer singled the Scot out for praise in the way he has seized his opportunities this season, just as he is reaching an age where it is absolutely vital that he plays first-team football.

‘Scott comes into the training ground every day with a fantastic attitude and that’s the way to improve,’ said the Norwegian.

‘Every game he plays, he grows and grows – and he was one of the first ones to take the ball down and settle us (against Barca).

‘It was a fantastic game for Scott. Every time he plays for us he is improving.

‘He’s a great athlete, he can run all day long. He wins challenges, he’s quick on his feet.

‘He was composed, brought the ball down a few times. He started settling us, to be fair.’ Think on that for a moment. In a game where Manchester United were without the ball for long, long spells, the player who settled the home side was a youngster still trying to establish himself as a first-team regular.

Pogba didn’t impose himself. Team captain Ashley Young had a nightmare. But McTominay stepped in and brought a degree of control to a game that was slipping away from United.

When Mourinho picked the tall and imposing midfielder in place of Pogba, it felt like an act of petty politics on the part of the now-departed manager.

That’s not to say Jose didn’t value him, because he did. Which became a bit of problem, as the Special One’s star waned.

The fact that Solskjaer has started McTominay against Liverpool, PSG and now Barca proves what he thinks of him.

Former United centre-half Rio Ferdinand said of his performance against Busquets, Rakitic et al: ‘That solidified him as a Manchester United regular.

‘That is a defining moment for a young man against a Barcelona team. That’s him now established and I think it’s a massive moment for him – and really credit to him because I think he was terrific.

‘For a young man to be the best player on the pitch when Fred cost £50m, Pogba cost £90m, it’s incredible.

‘He grew into the game and I think he’s growing in stature. In the PSG game there was no expectations of him – the young, inexperienced person – to do well.

‘But I thought his energy, his intensity… he was the catalyst for a lot of the good stuff that happened.

‘He won a lot of balls back and then gave the ball simply and efficiently to other players.

‘I just think that there are sometimes performances that really do make you grow in stature and believe that you’re part of the first team.

‘I think the PSG game and now this one will really do that, and I think he’ll be respected even more.’ Remarkably, McTominay was never considered one of the shining stars in the United youth academy, with many expecting him to go no further than perhaps a handful of first-team appearances.

He was only moved from the academy building to the first-team dressing room when Andreas Pereira went on loan to Valencia last season, having began the campaign in the Under-23s, with occasional starts for the Under-21s.

If he continues to make the most of every chance, keeps on rising to each successive challenge, he may soon live up to the too-early hype hailing him as the natural heir to Fletcher.

McLeish has shown that he will be patient, at least for however long he is still in situ. Can the Tartan Army be similarly forbearing? McTominay might just be worth the wait. 

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