In the space of two years, Scott McTominay shot up 14 inches but the young Manchester United player’s reputation has grown at an even more impressive rate.
Selected ahead of the club’s record signing, Paul Pogba, for last week’s Champions League clash at Sevilla, it illustrated just how highly regarded he is by manager Jose Mourinho, and his performance in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Chelsea demonstrated why his star is on the rise.
“He is amazing,” said fellow midfielder Nemanja Matic, after that display. “He is 21 and to play like that and control the game like that is impressive. He will be a big player for Manchester United.
“I like him because he is a very nice guy and he doesn’t have a problem to ask before the game something and I am always there to help him. When I came to Manchester I saw within a few days he would become a top player.”
It explains why there is a growing demand for him to be included when Alex McLeish announces his first Scotland squad next week.
The new national coach will be without former captain Scott Brown, who announced his retirement from international football this week, but if the task of guiding Scotland to a major finals looks daunting, the job of convincing McTominay to be a member of the squad could be even more difficult.
Set to travel to United’s Carrington training ground this week to meet with the 21-year-old, McLeish isn’t the first man to try to convince the youngster that his international future lies in the dark blue of his father’s homeland.
Born in Lancaster, McTominay caught United’s eye aged just five at one of the club’s development centres, in Preston, and has progressed through the Old Trafford club’s academy set-up, signing professional forms in July 2013. He has been involved in SFA youth training camps and even stated: “I’m probably more Scottish than I am English”. But when it comes to officially nailing his colours to the mast he has been more reticent.
Ahead of last November’s friendly with Holland, interim manager and current SFA performance director Malky Mackay had tried to persuade him to join the Scottish set-up. But, keen to make it at club level first, the midfielder who made his debut last term but had amassed just half a dozen first-team appearances at that time, asked to be left to channel all his energies on becoming a regular. It may also have been a case of hedging bets and waiting to see if England would come calling.
But it is part of the Scottish DNA to try, try and try again. Which is why McLeish will answer a call from Mourinho to head south and try to claim the prize asset.
The United manager has heaped praise on his player who started out as a diminutive attacker and has blossomed following that growth spurt that forced him to miss much of the 2014-15 season. He has matured into a skilful and athletic midfielder, who shows vision going forward but works hard to offer his defence some protection, and there is more to come according to coaches at Old Trafford who see him as a box-to-box midfielder. Having come through the ranks with Marcus Rashford, sharing the No 10 duties in the under-16 team as neither was physically strong enough back then to contest a full 90 minutes, the English FA’s lack of interest has annoyed Mourinho, who has been actively touting the 6ft 4in player to the SFA.
“I think the kid deserves a little bit more [recognition],” the United manager said earlier this month. “I think maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid. But it looks like England is missing him. If I was Alex McLeish the first thing I would do would be to come to me.”
The inexperienced midfielder’s performances have led to him being short-listed alongside David De Gea and Romelu Lukaku for United’s player of the month award and earned the appreciation of the Old Trafford fans, as well as his coaches and team-mate, who are predicting big things from him.
“He is working very hard, but I don’t want to say too many things about him because he is still very young. But he deserves all the good things,” said Matic. “To fight for the team and not to give the opponent big space to play. And this is what Scott and me did [against Chelsea].”
“He’s been training with us for quite a while, even last season,” added United defender Chris Smalling. “He’s been sort of thrust into some big games, but be it Seville or here, he’s not phased. You can see him crunching into tackles and that’s what we do in training. He goes through people. It’s good that he’s stepped up to the mark.”