As the curtain closes on the perennial summer transfer window, Manchester United supporters find themselves celebrating the return of their Portuguese son. As well as Ronaldo, United welcome World Cup winner Raphaël Varane, Borussia Dortmund starlet Jadon Sancho, and former youth player Tom Heaton – a remarkable transfer window by all accounts.
Despite the influx of genuine first team starters, much has been made of the lack of acquisition in the holding midfield spot. Seen as the final piece of the jigsaw, United supporters have been screaming for a marquee signing to sit in front of the centre back partnership. While I can understand the desire for such, I’m also of the opinion that a certain man is being overlooked in all of this.
Born on the 8th day of December 1996, Scott McTominay has been associated with the club since the age of five. Originally a centre forward, he was converted into a central midfield role under former United coach, Warren Joyce. Nurtured by United great, Sir Alex Ferguson, McTominay has always been viewed (internally) as a template central midfielder for Manchester United.
Such is his work rate, commitment in training, and overall dedication to developing himself, former manager Jose Mourinho created a ‘Managers Player of the Year’ award specifically for the Scot. He was extremely vocal in presenting the award, and touching on the mental strength of the player, Mourinho had this to say:
“I always say that for me there are not young players or old players, it is just about the quality of the personality and this kid has everything that I want, so I think that it is good for the younger boys in the academy to look at him as an example of a player.” – As quoted by The Independent
Not only is his personality held in the highest of regard at Old Trafford, his legitimate footballing ability is also cherished. Standing at 6 Ft 4 In, and continuously dedicated to building his physique, McTominay is transforming himself into a visually imposing footballer. What’s more, his versatility for club and country can see him comfortably play in both defence and midfield roles.
Having witnessed the full debut of French superstar Raphaël Varane, United fans have had a taste of the utter quality available. His display against Wolves was nothing short of fantastic and has drawn plaudits from players and pundits alike. Pairing him with our already established captain, Harry Maguire, provides a centre back partnership that is capable of solidifying itself in United legend.
It is when contemplating this unique partnership, one must understand that an individual players role can be largely determined by his peers. In truth, I feel that a flawed understanding in the nature of the modern defensive midfielder role now exists. Cultured by a new generation, labels and intrinsic values have been extremely convoluted in the understanding of tactical genetics.
Over the past two seasons, we’ve seen a United side built largely around a double pivot. Why? A lack of confidence in a CB pairing required additional support. This support was, at the time, a necessity. As above, the acquisition of Varane now provides a legitimate world – class centre back partnership. With this, the requirement for two CDM is extinguished. We now have two ball carrying defenders, comfortable on ground and in air, with the ability to break the lines of the opposition.
It’s widely reported that Ole desires an attacking 4-3-3 formation, with the onus shifting to two attacking midfielders. Not only do I understand this, I welcome it beyond measure. With this setup, the requirement for our sole holding midfielder is largely based around carrying ball from defence to midfield with a simple pass. McTominay, by the very nature of his build and playing ability, is ideal for this role. He’s press resistant, more than capable of throwing himself about and can carry the ball, as well as completing short ranged passes with high success rate. What’s more, he can drop into a back two when one centre back moves forward – as he does on a regular basis with Scotland.
This setup allows quick transition from back to front, as well as a back five in defensive situations. All three players can carry the ball, impose themselves physically, and lay the ball off to any of the five attackers ahead. To imply that McTominay is incapable of offering additional defensive protection is absurd. His physicality and positional awareness have always been a strong point. The groans often come with failed 50-yard passes & this setup negates the necessity for such.
Ultimately, the decision to avoid this marquee signing will provide much debate. Now more than ever, the focus will be on a fit McTominay and his ability to impose himself upon United’s season. His loss was very much felt against Wolves, and even the staunchest of naysayer would have been quite happy to have had him available off the bench. The ceiling can be as high as Scott McTominay desires, and I genuinely believe he can achieve great things at the club. He is the definition of a players’ player and I relish the prospect of seeing him line up in front of our dynamic duo. This is a defining period in the career of our Scot, and I expect a big response.
“Lang may yer lum reek”