They used to call Darren Fletcher, back in the day, Sir Alex Ferguson’s son. There was, as some Manchester United fans saw, no other way to explain why the Scottish midfielder, Fergie’s compatriot, continued to keep his place in the team. Some thought the same about Scott McTominay, another Scot often compared to Fletcher, last season. Jose Mourinho’s son?
Indeed, McTominay rarely caught the eye of anyone other than Mourinho, who created a new Manager’s Player of the Year last season purely to give the midfielder a trophy. At the time, many believed Mourinho was simply using the Scot to make a point, to counter those who highlighted the Portuguese’s weakness at bringing through young players. Recently, though, it seems that Mourinho might have been right about McTominay all along.
Against Barcelona on Wednesday, the Scotland international was a stand out player on a pitch that also hosted Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and the rest. On the biggest night of his career to date, McTominay shone, more than holding his own against the best midfield unit in the game.
On the ball and off the ball, the 22-year-old looked sure of himself. His confidence grew as the match progressed, not just playing a role in recovering possession, but in driving into pockets of space further up the pitch too. It was quite the rebuttal to those, including his writer, who have doubted his quality to play for a team like Man Utd.
This wasn’t an isolated, freakish case of momentary brilliance either.
It was a similar story in the second leg of the astonishing last 16 comeback against Paris Saint-Germain. Injuries thrust McTominay into a starting role at the Parc des Princes and against another world class midfield unit he proved his worth.
“The boy’s developing every time he plays,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the 1-0 defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday. “He comes into training with a fantastic attitude and that’s the way to improve. Every game he plays he grows and grows. Today he was the one to take the ball down to settle us.”
McTominay’s emergence comes just as Man Utd are looking to embark on a summer of renewal. Nemanja Matic, along with Matteo Darmian, Juan Mata, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia and others, is believed to be one such player Solskjaer is open to replacing, with the Serbian too sluggish to be a natural fit for United’s fast and furious, counter-attacking style under their new Norwegian manager.
Some potential targets have been mentioned – Idrissa Gueye, Tanguy Ndombele and Declan Rice, just to name a few. But with other positions, most notably at the back, a priority this summer McTominay is good enough to all but end Man Utd’s dependence on Matic at the base of their midfield.
With Ander Herrera expected to leave for PSG at the end of the season, it’s unlikely that Matic will be sold any time soon. Solskjaer will need some squad depth and despite the Serbian’s stylistic unsuitability, he does offer an option against low calibre opposition.
It’s worth keeping him around for now.
The midfield dynamic has been changed by the recent emergence of McTominay. The Scot still has a long way to go before he can be considered the future of Man Utd’s midfield, but he has at the very least earned the opportunity to blossom into that player. If he can do it against Barcelona and PSG, then he can surely do it against the kind of teams United face on a weekly basis.
Fletcher was a much better player than many gave him credit for over the course of his Man Utd career. For a spell, he was one of the Old Trafford outfit’s most important players, if not a headline-grabbing superstar.
The parallels drawn between Fletcher and McTominay were initially lazy. Now, however, there might be something in them. And that could prove to be bad news for Matic.