Scott McTominay put in an impressive performance for Manchester United in their 2-0 win over Benfica on Tuesday.
The day after the club celebrated their 80th anniversary of playing a youth team graduate in every game, a record of 3,883 consecutive matches, it was fitting that the youngster started in this Champions League fixture.
This was the youngster’s fourth game of the season, having made his debut against Arsenal at the Emirates last season. He has been on the winning team in every appearance this campaign and has put in some good displays.
Having played 90 minutes against Swansea in the EFL Cup the week before, Mourinho singled the youngster out for praise.
“I’d say Scott did very well because he was really comfortable and strong in midfield,” said the manager.
Following his display against Benfica, teammate Nemanja Matic, who played alongside McTominay in midfield, was full of praise for the Scotsman.
“I think Scott is going to be a great player and already is a great player,” he said. “He’s very young, very talented and physically strong. I’m sure he is the future of Manchester United and I enjoy playing with him because he also works really hard and is very confident. I’m going to help him in training because I think with his potential he’s going to be a big star for Manchester United.”
McTominay has come along way in a relatively short space of time to be where he is now. Remarkably, he’s only played around 50 games at any level over the past five years due to injury, and many of those were as a striker.
To have made the midfield position his own, looking composed and confident on the ball, on the back of so little playing time is quite an achievement.
McTominay first became involved with United as a five-year-old when developing the club’s development centre in Preston. At U-16 level, he used to compete with Marcus Rashford for a place in the team, with them taking a half of playing time each, before former youth team coach Warren Joyce moved him in to midfield.
Thanks to a growth spurt, shooting up from 5ft 6ins to 6ft 4ins in 18 months, and hours spent in the gym, McTominay has the perfect build for his newfound position.
Several supporters have likened him to Darren Fletcher, and not just because of his Scottish heritage, but his tenacity, tackling ability, as well as an eye for a pass.
McTominay was born in Lancaster but insists he feels more Scottish than he does English. While he’s attended training camps with the Scottish youth sides, he’s yet to play for Scotland at any level.
Judging by the way he’s been performing for United though, you imagine that a call up can’t be too far off.
McTominay can be grateful for his opportunity for a few reasons. Firstly, for being at a club that is so patient with youth and so desperate to give them a chance in the first team.
While Manchester City and Chelsea’s academy create the best youth teams year after year, neither give their youngsters a go in the first team.
Yet at United, McTominay is following a long line of young players who have been supported for years and given the opportunity to shine.
“I think when I was 13 or 14, if I was at another club who weren’t as patient with me as I was smaller and not playing games, I think they might have thought: ‘We’ll just get rid of him’,” he said last year.
Another reason for him featuring in the first team is Andreas Pereira’s decision to leave for a season-long loan to Valencia in the summer, against the manager’s wishes. Mourinho saw a role for the Brazilian but Pereira wanted regular football instead. Had he stayed put, McTominay may not have been given the opportunities that he has been.
Still, that’s the way football works sometimes. Rashford was only given his debut because Wayne Rooney was injured and Anthony Martial pulled up in the warm-up against FC Midtjylland, yet he took his opportunity with both hands and is now a regular for club and country, having just celebrated his 20th birthday.
McTominay is showing signs of doing the same in the absence of injured players like Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick.
“Obviously as a young boy growing up at United, you dream of playing in the Champions League for the team and to get my full start was a dream for me and I’m just made up we’ve got the three points and a clean sheet,” he said after the win over Benfica. “Obviously after all of those years growing up in the Academy and watching the first-team players and learning from them, these nights are brilliant.”
With United still competing on four fronts this season, McTominay can expect plenty more playing time in the months ahead.