The Parc des Princes has proved a place of reckoning for Scottish footballers in the past. Now Alex McLeish believes Scott McTominay’s display for Manchester United in the stadium against Paris Saint-Germain could be a defining performance for a player he advised to go out on loan as recently as Christmas.
The Scotland manager admits to having concerns after Jose Mourinho, such an advocate of McTominay, was sacked by the Old Trafford club in mid-December to put the midfielder’s future at the club in doubt.
McTominay was featuring more intermittently in any case as Mourinho turned to more experienced campaigners in a bid to ignite his under-achieving side. When he exited, to be replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it was reasonable to assume McTominay’s opportunities were in danger of withering away completely.
His involvement in an Under-23 game against Paris Saint-Germain in January did little to alter those fears. Few, certainly, could have predicted him being a linchpin only weeks later in a Champions League comeback against the same French side that has gone down in history. McTominay had saved his best performance to date in a United shirt for Solskjaer, who recently awarded him a new contract and is proving every bit as supportive as Mourinho.
McLeish, pictured, believes it was a coming of age display by McTominay, who imposed his authority on an opposition midfield including the classy Italian Marco Veratti. The 22-year-old now looks set to play a pivotal role in Scotland’s upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Kazakhstan and San Marino.
McLeish revealed he had spoken to McTominay’s agent, the former Hibs and Northern Ireland defender Colin Murdock, about the need to investigate loan opportunities for McTominay. “I spoke to his agent at Christmas and said, ‘look we need to get Scott out [on loan]’,” he said. “We want him to be a part of our squad for years to come and want to get him out training every day with cones and bibs and passing movements. I don’t want to know Ole’s thoughts but he brought him in and played him against Liverpool and he was excellent,” he added. McTominay has not looked back. Solskjaer might regret not including him in the first XI for Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Wolves. The Scot played only the last few minutes during which Marcus Rashford pulled a goal back for United. The fact he didn’t start underlines McTominay’s value – there are bigger assignments to come, including Champions League quarter-final dates with Barcelona following the international break.
“The big guy is learning all the time and it’s great to see him coming through in the PSG game as he did against Veratti,” said McLeish. “He [Veratti] is a world-class player and to mess him about and get the wee guy rattled was the performance of a veteran.”
It was evidence, if any was needed, that McTominay belongs in the company of his stellar United team-mates – and the company of his equally illustrious opponents that evening in the Parc des Princes. Perhaps he didn’t always believe it. “That performance against PSG suggests that swagger might be there,” noted McLeish. “I know he was given a specific job and he did that job to the nth degree. That kind of performance should give him added swagger and belief in himself.”
Just over a year ago McLeish battled through the Beast from the East storm to convince the Lancaster-born McTominay to declare for Scotland. There have been moments over the last 12 months when the Tartan Army wondered if it was worth the effort.
Was this really the Manchester United starlet they had heard so much about and who Mourinho was investing so much faith in? He looked comfortable, which is more than should really be expected of someone making his way in international football. But when you have Manchester United in brackets next to your name on the team sheet, more is expected – just ask Darren Fletcher.
McTominay has now played five times for Scotland since making his much-hyped debut a year ago against Costa Rica. His last two appearances have been off the bench as Scotland secured the victories needed against Albania and Israel to top their group. McLeish agrees too much pressure was heaped on the midfielder.
“It’s really important to mention that,” said McLeish. “When Darren Fletcher came into the Scotland team everyone was asking ‘why is he not playing like George Best?’ That was just because he played for Man United. We have to remember there are certain types of players and they need to be cogs fitting into the wheel. We believe Scott has a good future for club and country.”