Scott McTominay is probably used to being written off now. It happened as he came through at Manchester United, it happened when Jose Mourinho sang his praises when he gave the Scot his first-team opportunity, and it happened again when Mourinho left.
At that point the general consensus seemed to be that McTominay’s time was up too. His inclusion in the United side under Mourinho and the award the manager invented to give him at the end of the 2017/18 season was an effort to make an example out of more senior players, rather than any true belief in the academy graduate’s own ability and potential.
So when McTominay was handed a new contract in January 2019, just a month after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival, there was general bemusement. When this correspondent wrote a piece suggesting that the midfielder might have more to offer, the comments below the line weren’t exactly unanimous in their agreement.
One suggested he was a ‘Darren Fletcher lite’, to which the next reply was ‘Darren Fletcher was miles better’. Another asked ‘Why just why not good enough for this great club get rid of the deadwood’. You get the picture by now.
But in just over a year McTominay has proved them all wrong. You’ll have to work hard to find too many doubters in the 23-year-old now.
McTominay has now made 51 appearances in the Premier League for United and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say it feels like he’s grown for every one of them. You certainly don’t need to look too hard to find evidence of how much Solskjaer believes in him.
After McTominay scored in a drab Premier League defeat at Wolves last April, Solskjaer said: “Scott has never ever let us down and he never disappoints when he plays. So, it won’t be hard to see him play many, many games for Man United, because he has got such a great mentality.”
After excelling in the win over Tottenham in January, Solskjaer said of McTominay: ‘You can almost say he is undroppable at the moment.”
So far the midfielder has risen to every challenge he’s faced, but the biggest of the lot might be coming his way next season. There’s no doubt fortune has also favoured the Scotland international in his United career so far.
His chance arrived as Mourinho reached new levels of exasperation with his existing midfield options. When Solskjaer took over McTominay didn’t start any of the first nine Premier League games, with his only start in the first two months of the Norwegian’s reign coming in an FA Cup win over Reading.
Again he forced his way back into the manager’s plans and became essential this season, to the point where he badly missed after picking up a knee injury against Newcastle on Boxing Day. United’s win percentage with McTominay this season is 54 per cent, without that drops to 48pc.
While last season he benefited from Fred’s struggles to adapt, this season he’s taken advantage of Paul Pogba’s prolonged absences. But next season might be the most competitive midfield United have fielded for some time and if Pogba stays the competition for places will be fierce.
Presuming Solskjaer sticks with a midfield three the likely candidates for now would be Fred, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. Yet few doubt McTominay forcing his way in given that mentality that has so impressed United coaching staff.
Fred’s improvement this season owes a considerable amount to the presence of McTominay alongside him. He regularly helps his teammates look good, an invaluable trait to have.
Ultimately Solskjaer wants depth in United’s midfield and he will expect enough games in enough competitions to keep everyone happy. Solskjaer himself has compared McTominay to Fletcher in the past and he’s exactly the kind of dependable academy graduate that so many successful United squads have required, setting an example on and off the pitch.
Even if McTominay isn’t a first choice pick next season, his influence is unlikely to drop.