As lead development coach with Fulham, Peter Grant likes to think he is abreast of all the up-and-coming young talent in England.
So it’s rare for him to turn up at game and be unfamiliar with any 20 year-old, never mind one playing centre midfield for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
But this happened at the Emirates last season, as Grant, initially unwittingly, watched Scott McTominay make his senior debut for Manchester United against Arsenal. What had him questioning himself further was subsequently learning the 6ft 4in player, who looked so assured after coming on as a late substitute for Juan Mata, qualified to play for Scotland.
Fate has now decreed the pair are working together. New Scotland manager Alex McLeish successfully managed to recruit McTominay, who was born in Lancaster but has a Scottish father, for Scotland. He had already enrolled Grant to work alongside him in a second stint in charge of the national side.
The pair will seek to achieve the delicate balancing act of allowing McTominay the freedom to express himself while at the same time managing expectations that are rising all the time about the player.
“I was actually at his first game and didn’t know he was Scottish,” recalled Grant yesterday.
“That was at the Emirates against Arsenal and he was magnificent. I remember thinking: ‘Wow. Where has he come from?’ That game I saw him in, he was like an old pro,” he added. “He used the ball very well, played with an enthusiasm, knowledge and understanding.”
Grant recalls thinking McTominay couldn’t be Scottish because “he’s 6ft 4in, passes the ball really well and is playing central midfield for Manchester United in a big game against Arsenal”.
The twice-capped former Scotland midfielder doesn’t mean to sound insulting. He just could not fathom how someone could jump from almost compete unknown to midfielder for Manchester United while being so under the radar.
“The name was the first thing (that had me wondering about Scotland),” he said. “I know people laugh, but everyone says just add a ‘Mac’ and they can play for Scotland. We were laughing and I was speaking to someone and they said: ‘I think he can play for Scotland, his dad is Scottish’. The next thing it is in the papers, and you think: ‘Wow, what an opportunity’.
“He has to settle down, because there is a lot of things going on. People say he took his time selecting Scotland but I think there was just a hell of a lot of things going on full stop – he was concentrating on playing for Manchester United and getting in the team and learning from some world-class players.
“He has done that exceptionally well. The fact he is selected in the big games so far tells you a lot about the temperament he has.”
Grant described McTominay as “humble” when he joined up with the rest of his new international team-mates at a hotel outside Edinburgh on Sunday night.
“That has maybe got him as far as he has,” said the former Celtic midfielder. “You see a lot of young players who play once for the first team and think they are a player.
“I was a player myself – I played over 100 games and was still cleaning boots, guys who were not even in the squad and I was still cleaning their boots. That was the way it was. Big Billy [McNeill, Celtic manager] didn’t move me.
“I thought that was the norm. Now all of a sudden a rule was brought in which meant the players were not allowed to do that. But for us it was brilliant – it meant I could go into the dressing room and speak to Danny McGrain, and then go home at night and say: ‘Danny McGrain spoke to me!’ These guys missed out.
“You can tell with Scott he has been brought up the right way,” he added. “A hell of a lot of kids go the other way. He comes in with his eyes open as if he is willing to learn and is excited about playing football.
“Some guys turn up now and want the footballer’s lifestyle but don’t want to put the work in. If you said to them they were not playing on Saturday it would not bother them.”
McTominay and his fellow players, new call-ups or otherwise, have already had things spelled out to them by McLeish, who addressed the squad on Sunday.
According to Grant, it was a “short and to the point meeting” underlining what now lies within their grasp.
“It was important for the players to know what they are representing,” said Grant. “Alex told them that we are here to try to achieve qualification.
“There is no point hiding from that. Alex has been close before as Scotland boss and he admits it’s the most hurt he’s been because he wanted to get there.
“He hit the bar the last time but now he wants to put the ball in the back of the net.
“The supporters have been dying to get to a tournament for years but these players maybe don’t even realise that, they are so young.
“We came so close the last time and the players carry the burden now. They are new, young and they should be excited by the opportunity they have.”