The key roles played by Alex McLeish and Alex Ferguson in convincing Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay to declare for Scotland over England are fully understood by Craig Brown. The country’s former national manager believes, though, that the influence of Old Trafford boss Jose Mourinho should not be underestimated.
Lancaster-born-and-raised McTominay, whose father Frank hails from Helensburgh, will be named next week in Scotland’s squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary after McLeish met with the 21-year-old last week.
England made a concerted effort to get McTominay to throw in his lot with his home country and as such Brown recognises the capture of the player who has made a stunning breakthrough at United this season as a real feather in the cap of the new Scotland manager. Not least because he begins his tenure with the Tartan Army requiring to be won over by his appointment.
Yet Brown has no doubts that Mourinho would be as content with this resolution as McLeish and Scottish managerial godfather Ferguson, who pushed to make it happen behind the scenes at the Old Trafford club he transformed.
“I read that Sir Alex Ferguson was influential in McTominay’s decision,” the 77-year-old Brown said. “However the most influential guy will have been Jose Mourinho. He has a great affection for Scotland. He did his coaching badges at Largs and he loved it in Scotland. When he started at Chelsea I was at Derby and I met him at a reserve game at Brentford. He was the manager of Chelsea and there he was in the hamburger queue. I was watching the game with the Derby reserve team and I was talking to him. I said to him: ‘Don’t you think you can come to England and beat Alex Ferguson’. Mourinho replied: ‘No chance, it’s not him or the Scottish I want to beat it is the English!’ If the boy had said to Mourinho ‘Scotland or England?’ I think Mourinho would have steered him down the Scotland route as he is so well disposed to Scotland.
“I believe Mourinho would be also supportive of him playing for Scotland. It is a massive coup for Alex. To beat England to get a player is just like beating them in a game.”
Not all of a Scottish disposition thought so. Charlie Nicholas criticised McTominay’s ambition, accused his father of being behind the decision more than the player, said for Scotland it “stunk of desperation”, that “it takes something away from our identity”, and added “we may not have the most talented players but they are grafters and have to be passionate about representing their country”.
That passion has hardly been in short supply from those who have previously worn the dark blue of Scotland but spoken with the sort of “English accent” to which Nicholas also made reference.
Brown was well served by a number in his eight-year tenure that brought finals appearances in a World Cup and a European Championship – with the France 98 World Cup the last tournament reached by Scotland. “Guys like Stuart McCall and Don Hutchison were like Scott McTominay in that their dads were Scottish,” Brown said. “I don’t think you should be allowed to go to the grandparents but if you can then we have to use it – otherwise we could be disadvantaged. Big Jack Charlton used it brilliantly with the Republic of Ireland rule and we followed suit, so we didn’t get left behind. I like the idea of the backroom staff being Scottish as well, or have a parent that’s Scottish.”
That will be the case now, with McLeish expected to be assisted by James McFadden and Peter Grant. Brown has high hopes for the latest Scotland manager and doesn’t understand the mixed reaction to his appointment. The fact that he jumped from the Scotland job first time around after only ten games, and on his way back from a World Cup draw, to take the Birmingham City job in 2007, shouldn’t be an issue.
“It wasn’t a great way to leave Scotland, granted, but how many wouldn’t go to the Premier League in England for double the salary or more?” Brown said.
“Alex is back to where he wants to be and he has unfinished business. I sat with him at the Aberdeen v Celtic game at Pittodrie the other week and he is as enthusiastic as ever about the Scotland job.”
l Craig Brown was speaking at an event to announce Scottish Government match-funding to target the creation of 50 Football Memory boxes as part of the work of the Football Memories Project. Individuals or organisations wishing to donate £250 to sponsor a Football Memory box in honour of their club or an individual should visit www.sportsheritagescotland.co.uk or call 0141 616 6112.