Scott McTominay shows his composure.

McTominay's rise from Blackpool to Barcelona

One game will always stick in my mind when I recall Scott McTominay’s footballing education at Manchester United.

Reserves coach Warren Joyce fielded the midfielder as a lone striker in a Lancashire Senior Cup tie at Blackpool a little over three short years ago. The pitch was terrible, the game was not much better and it was a stereotypical battle against physical lower-league opposition.

In terms of senior football, it was possibly as far removed from confronting Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s footballing artists on a pleasantly sunny evening in the quarter-finals of the Champions League as you could get. Scott scored the winner, from close range, and took the knocks in an unfamiliar role.

Scott McTominay celebrates a goal against Blackpool.
Scott McTominay celebrates his first Reserves goal in a win at Blackpool three years ago.

Later, he would tell me: “I was not too pleased with how I played. It was a tough game, they were big, strong lads and it was a test to see where you’re at, playing up front was hard. You don’t really know all the runs and how to receive the ball.”

Joyce appreciated this and suggested it was only fair McTominay played in his usual position if he was to have a chance of making it at United. He was particularly good at dealing with the ball in the quick passing drills in training, our former coach pointed out in sharing some real insight behind the scenes.

If you had told me watching that slog against the Seasiders that Scott would soon be not only starting but absolutely shining against Barcelona, it would have been hard to comprehend. Maybe the fact he was doing a job for the team spoke volumes for his character which, I have since learned from speaking to him, is a priceless commodity of his.

The fact is, even if Nemanja Matic had been fit enough to play, it would have been extremely harsh to leave the Scotland international out. He was clearly our top performer in an overall disappointing display at Wolves last time out in the Premier League and showed the kind of desire then that was always going to be required against Barcelona.

Furthermore, he was thrown in against Liverpool at Old Trafford due to injuries and handled the occasion perfectly. He then produced a coming-of-age display in Paris when helping the Reds overturn the two-goal deficit from the first leg. It was when he showed just how far he has come and, in keeping precious possession deep into stoppage time when the nerves were jangling beyond belief, he presented a cool head and maturity way beyond his levels of experience.

If still further evidence of his quality was required, he followed up an excellent showing in defeat at Wolves by truly looking the part against Barcelona’s star-studded midfield. Never overawed and keen to provide a physical edge, he also displayed an enormous amount of composure and calmness on the ball. He was one huge positive on the night, Fred alongside him was another, but this was a top-drawer display in the most taxing of circumstances.

Scott McTominay jumps for joy.
Scott helped United record a famous 3-1 victory at Paris Saint-Germain.

Personality and temperament can only be tested in the biggest of matches, when the stakes are at their highest. In this case, Scott has passed another audition with flying colours. Everybody at the club should be delighted with him, including manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who said afterwards that the 22-year-old is improving with every appearance.

“He comes into the training ground every day with a fantastic attitude and that’s the way to improve,” commented Ole. “Every game he plays, he grows and grows and, today, he was one of the first ones to take the ball down and settle us.” 

People are sometimes guilty of under appreciating our Academy graduates. Yes, we all supply extra support in the hope they do well but they have lacked a crucial aspect of a player’s development in certain fans' eyes by being part of the transfer hullabaloo that almost appears more important than the games themselves. It means they could be considered less fashionable perhaps than a signing we have had to compete with clubs around the world to secure.

Ole's press conference after Barca defeatVideo

It is all up to Scott now but his form is, in my view, making him a strong candidate to become a regular starter in Ole’s side and render some of the constant stream of names in his position being fed by the media in the unreal world of transfer speculation irrelevant.

From the beach resort of Blackpool to the beach resort of Barcelona, providing he does keep his place in the Nou Camp, as the boss has already strongly hinted, the next steps of his journey will continue to be fascinating to chart.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.

Recommended:

  • United 0 Barcelona 1 article

    The Reds are still very much in the tie, after limiting the visitors to just an early Shaw own goal.

  • Solskjaer: We can win at the Nou Camp article

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes United are capable of causing Barcelona problems in the quarter-final second leg.

  • Star man Scott takes the plaudits article

    Scott McTominay has been voted our Man of the Match after the Champions League first leg against Barcelona.

  • Talking points from Old Trafford article

    United were beaten after VAR intervention but where does this leave the overall complexion of the tie?