The notion that Scott McTominay only plays for Manchester United because of passion and his academy roots is becoming more and more naïve.
It’s a tired and outdated tag for anybody, let alone for a player who has so evidently outgrown the stereotype and developed into a seriously effective footballer.
Look, this isn’t us immediately saying McTominay should be walking into FIFA’s World XI, but let’s give some credit where it’s due. While at one time it looked like he was merely a passion project for Jose Mourinho in 2017, McTominay is now an impressive midfielder with genuine influence and reliability.
His improvement over the course of the last three years has been tremendous. The 24-year-old is a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans at United and, like it or not, is crucial to any future success. An impactful presence has been felt more than ever in the 2020/21 season, and with Paul Pogba out with injury once more, McTominay must step up at the base of midfield in United’s FA Cup fifth round tie against West Ham.
While his imposing frame has always been beneficial and likely what caught Mourinho’s eye all those years ago, McTominay has since developed a tireless engine and an unrelenting physicality to match up with it, making him the ideal box-to-box midfielder in the modern, pressing game.
What has improved him, though, is his ever-increasing impact on games for United. Often paired with Fred, the Brazilian is the one to recycle play and win back possession, while McTominay is tasked with retaining the ball and moving it forward. It’s an underrated part of his game, but the 24-year-old is impressively press resistant and has developed an eye for a long pass. He’s slowly learning to play through the lines too, and while his passing must still develop, he deserves some credit for his progression.
While McTominay’s passing from deep continues to improve quietly, his output moving forward has been no secret. An influential figure, he makes deep runs from midfield and pops up with important goals for United. The Scotland international has bagged a career-best six goals so far this season, he was the goalscoring protagonist in the thumping win over Leeds in December and headed home an early winner in the FA Cup that saw them through the third round against Watford, where he captained the side alongside Donny van de Beek and took on the responsibility well.
Credit must be given to United’s coaching staff for realising the potential in McTominay and investing the time in him for that potential to come to the fore, but also to McTominay himself for showing such a desire to learn and improve. He has quickly grown into a key figure in United’s XI and is a big personality in a team that has been rewired mentally. There is still plenty to learn, but his improvement and leadership qualities can serve as inspiration to colleagues such as Van de Beek.
The fuss around Van de Beek’s game time is becoming as tiresome as the McTominay stereotypes. It is his first season in a top European league, and the competition he provides is proving effective. But he can still bring more to the table on the rare starts he is afforded this season, perhaps even more so now Pogba is injured once again.
Solskjaer will likely hand Van de Beek a start against West Ham on Tuesday night, but pairing him alongside McTominay is the risk he needs to take. It’s the pair he deployed against Watford in the third round and gets the best out of both. McTominay operates from box to box and can effectively break down play, but also spray a pass if needed.
Van de Beek, therefore, is free to enjoy a game where his movement and short passing between the lines can break down a resilient and energised West Ham. The opportunity would provide a great chance to earn a run of games in the side.
The two can learn from each other, but also compliment each other well. Taking a risk and breaking the stigma of only being able to play McTominay with Fred could yield good fortune for Solskjaer’s Red Devils, demonstrating McTominay and Van de Beek are two players with a bright future ahead at Old Trafford.