Opinion: McTominay can be a Fletcher in United's future
Scott McTominay may have scored Manchester United's only goal in Sunday's draw at Huddersfield Town but it's his all-round attributes that could make him a key figure under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The 22-year-old could prove to be the kind of player for Solskjaer that Darren Fletcher was to Sir Alex Ferguson for around a decade.
Every team needs a 'Mr Dependable' like Darren - a go-to, solid, reliable character with a strong work ethic. It's still early days for McTominay, who made his first-team debut against Arsenal just two years ago this week, but he has already shown signs that he could emulate his fellow Scotland international.
On a disappointing Sunday afternoon in Yorkshire, when the Reds' quest for a Champions League place was ended by the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield, McTominay still emerged with some credit.
He’d put United ahead at the John Smith’s Stadium and was the effervescent dynamo that attempted to keep the Reds going when the relegated Terriers rallied in their final top-flight home game.
McTominay's display deserved a better outcome than to be crossing back over the Pennines contemplating Europa League football next season.
It is never easy putting your personal stamp on a United side but it is a smoother job to take on when the side are riding the crest of a wave. McTominay, however, has won plaudits at a time when the Reds have found it hard to recapture the halcyon days.
To stand out, make an impact and provide a spark when the squad is low on collective confidence is a tough task. But the Academy graduate in our no.39 shirt has stepped up to do just that when he’s had his starting chances. Winning the club’s Player of the Month award for April was just reward for the young Red.
Solskjaer has consistently handed out deserved public praise for McTominay.
After his first senior goal at Molineux in the 2-1 Premier League defeat against Wolves, the manager said,
“Scott has never ever let us down and he never disappoints when he plays.
“This [match at Wolves] was another very, very fine performance by Scotty. So, it won’t be hard to see him play many, many games for Man United, because he has got such a great mentality.
“He is so athletic, he can play in different positions. Today we feel that’s his best position, like a high midfielder, but he can play in that defensive role easily, like he has done against PSG and Liverpool. So I was very, very pleased with him.”
Before the Huddersfield match, Solskjaer added:
“Scott's been absolutely brilliant since I've come. In training he's been absolutely terrific, in the games as well.”
And McTominay has stood out even in the company of elite opposition. After the 1-0 Champions League quarter-final loss to Barcelona at Old Trafford, the manager paid tribute to the midfielder.
“Scott McTominay was fantastic,” said Ole.
“Every time he plays for us he is improving.
“He’s a great athlete, he wins his challenges and he's quick on his feet. He started settling us to be fair [after United went behind].”
It was a personal performance when up against Lionel Messi and co that also had Solskjaer's predecessor, Jose Mourinho, purring.
It was the Portuguese who promoted Scott to the senior side on that May 2017 trip to Arsenal; speaking as a pundit after the Barca match, the former Reds boss said:
“Barcelona was not Barcelona and I think United had one player that was responsible for that.I think Scott McTominay in midfield was like what I used to call 'a mad dog'. But when I use this expression it’s obviously in the total positive sense of the word
“Afraid of nobody. Imposing his respect. Pressing really hard with a huge range of movement and a huge area of pressing. Pressing higher and creating problems in Barcelona building up, then being really aggressive in the duels.”
It was a big-game performance, similar to his impact against Paris Saint-Germain on that memorable evening in the Parc Des Princes when United beat the French side 3-1 in the last 16 to progress to the quarter-finals.
Solskjaer has continued to show the same faith in McTominay that Mourinho did when the midfielder emerged from the Under-23s. And it was the Norwegian's appointment, initially as caretaker manager in December, that prompted the club's Head of Academy and former cog in the first-team engine room, Nicky Butt to point out the prodigy's opportunity.
Scott recently said,
“I remember Butty saying ‘what a chance for you now, lad. What an opportunity to show an absolute club legend what you’ve got.
“‘You’ve got to fancy yourself to show him you can play and be a regular for Manchester United.’”
McTominay is doing just that with his personal contributions this spring. His displays against PSG and Barca reflected the kind of in-your face-efforts that Fletcher was famous for.
Darren’s displays in Category A matches used to make him such a firm favourite with Sir Alex, even when he was surrounded by more stellar options.
Talking about Fletcher, Sir Alex once reflected,
“I love the guy; he is a fantastic professional.
“I always liked to play him in big games. He is a big-game player. He was not fazed by a big game or the opponent. In all the big games at United he excelled. If there was one player we needed against Barcelona in Rome [in the 2009 Champions League final] he was that man.
“We really missed him in Rome [when he was suspended]. He would have helped us.”
Sir Alex could have been talking about McTominay on the big stage now.
Fletcher may have gone under the radar for many fans and critics but his manager's words said it all. McTominay, similarly, is going to be an understated name outside of the dressing room probably as United begin the job of reconstructing the squad.
But it is likely he is going to be a name the Reds cannot do without.
The opinions in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.