Ali McCann's immense Galatasaray performance showed why he is going to be St Johnstone's record sale
The Northern Ireland international was immense for the Saints on Thursday night in Istanbul as they drew 1-1 with Galatasaray. Popping up across the pitch like the most annoying but effective of moles in whac-a-mole to thwart opponents. The type of player in 5s you eventually lash out at because he is on top of you for an hour, not allowing you a second on the ball, not allowing you to breathe. He was the itchiest of rashes, spreading through the Turkish giants.
As ever with St Johnstone, the result was a collective effort. No one player is bigger than the team. For this team, this manager, this system, it can never be about the individual. No player can be given a little bit of slack. The work ethic and attitude has to be spot on, for all 11 starters and those that join the action from the bench.
However, in terms of individuals. Ali McCann is that bit special. He was a midfield wrecking ball out of possession, an oasis of calm with it. Both sides were on display in the 29th minute. He blocked a pass, then burst forward. Michael O’Halloran found him with the ball and he was off, gliding through the Galatasaray defence before shuffling the ball to David Wotherspoon for a shooting opportunity.
The 21-year-old – yes, 21 – was the key man. The player who patrolled and protected but also ensured St Johnstone weren’t hemmed in.
He won the ball back 15 times and made five interceptions. No Saints player made more. He won 64 per cent of his duels and 14 of 20 defensive duels. Only Liam Gordon had a better success rate. But for all his ball winning he progressed it too.
When players are young and versatile it can sometimes be damaging. They can get moved around, leading to queries over their best position.Former Saints boss Tommy Wright even noted he was unsure what type of McCann would become.
He can play as a holder, the controller, the destroyer, the prober or the attacker. But it is in no way detrimental. A Swiss-army knife of a midfielder.
Perhaps because the team he plays for he remains underrated. That should no longer be the case. Certainly not after that one night in Istanbul.
Teams shouldn't be able to get him on the cheap. Contracted until 2023 – one of the best bits of business Saints have done – there is no need or rush to sell.
Manager Callum Davidson remains the club's record sale at £1.75million.
It’s only a matter of time before McCann breaks that. In the meantime, St Johnstone fans, savour every moment of his remaining time in Perth.
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