McTominay is the only United player in the Scotland team
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When Tartan Army supporters of a certain vintage cast their minds back to Scotland’s illustrious moments – and yes, for those under 30, they really did exist – certain figures are etched in the memory.
Denis Law, of course, opening the scoring at Wembley in 1967 when England suffered their first defeat as world champions. Joe Jordan, the only Scotland player to have scored in the finals of three World Cups. Gordon Strachan, perching on a hoarding after the Scots’ opening goal against West Germany in the Mexican finals of 1986.
All played for Manchester United, a club whose Scottish connections – embodied particularly in Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson – were prominent. More recently, Darren Fletcher captained Scotland, although it was his misfortune to wear the dark blue jersey during the team’s 23-year exile from the finals of major tournaments.
At the 2020 Euros, the link is personified by Scott McTominay, Lancaster-born but eligible to play for Scotland through his father and the only Old Trafford representative in Steve Clarke’s squad. The manager rates the 24-year-old highly and recently pronounced McTominay the outstanding player on show during United’s Europa League final against Villarreal but, in trying to decide how best to deploy him, Clarke encountered a typically Scottish conundrum.
He had already had to deal with a positional issue affecting Kieran Tierney and Andrew Robertson, the Scots’ two best players but also both left-backs. Clarke’s solution was to field Tierney on the left of a back three, with Robertson as wing-back on the same flank.
McTominay, too, has been deployed as a central defender on the right of the back line and, although he was unconvincing in his early appearances, the reviews improved along with Scotland’s fortunes en route to qualification for the Euro 2020 finals. In Monday’s 2-0 defeat by the Czech Republic he was restored to midfield but McTominay was isolated as the Scots bypassed him with speculative lobs played towards Lyndon Dykes or with forays down the left, driven by Robertson.
As he prepares for what could be a make-or-break confrontation with England at Wembley, how does Clarke maintain balance in his team while getting the best out of McTominay who is, by common consent, most effective as a box-to-box player?
“The problem is that we need somebody in the sitting midfield role,” said Pat Nevin, former Chelsea and Scotland winger and now TV and radio pundit. “Steve would like to move him forward from that but he has been hindered by the injury to Ryan Jack that ruled him out of the squad.
“He would rather that McTominay could go box to box but he has Stuart Armstrong and John McGinn who can do that and somebody has to sit further back. It would be great if Steve could find some way to let him play that entire midfield role, at which I think he’s best, but he doesn’t want to leave a hole.
“The most obvious option is to bring Billy Gilmour in there, but that’s a big call against England. Against the Czechs, McTominay and Tomas Soucek cancelled each other out. It’s not a job Scott would have wanted but he took it on the chin for the team.
“He would much rather be the creative, gallivanting midfielder getting forward but he had to be controlled in that game and I felt quite sorry for him. If we had three solid centre backs, fine, but that’s the way it is with Scotland right now and McTominay is having to take on jobs for the collective benefit, rather than what’s best for him.
“Ultimately we need to play defensively and hope that we can be a bit more positive as the game goes on and give Scott a bit of scope to express himself the way we know he can do.”