Scott McTominay has worked his way into Manchester United’s first team, but his journey was far from straightforward.
Standing at 6’3″ tall, McTominay is a commanding presence in United’s midfield, although, it has not always been that way. The 22-year-old, who joined the club’s academy aged five, was a late bloomer.
“When I was a young player I didn’t have that so it’s taken a bit of time to adjust with the balance, controlling the ball – everything’s a little bit different.”
“When I did start growing into my body people said, ‘Wow, this is some transformation,’ but I just took it as it came, really.”
Falling behind in his physical development at United was tough for McTominay. But he had support from his room-mate, Joe Riley, who is now at Bradford City in England’s fourth tier after leaving United in May 2018.
“I was in digs with Joe Riley and he was someone I looked at as a man at that age,” he says. “I always wanted that, I always wanted to be able to run for days and compete with some big boys.
“Joe was good, he always used to keep me calm and say how well I was doing in training – even if I wasn’t doing that well. He would always check on me and see if I was alright and I will always remember that. We lived together for five years and it really set me in good stead.”
The path from United’s academy to the senior side is not one that many successfully tread. Riley and McTominay did.
“Coming through the youth teams, it was tough,” says McTominay. “If I look back at how I got through all that now it’s crazy. You just get through it.”
Last season in the Premier League, United handed the most minutes to academy graduates, continuing the club’s traditions of trusting in youth. The recent success stories include McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. But what is the club’s secret?
“I had good people around me,” adds McTominay, “people like Paul McGuiness and Warren Joyce, coaches like that who are absolutely instrumental in the upbringing of myself, Marcus Rashford and Axel Tuanzebe – other players like that.
“It’s no coincidence that we were all brought up through the ranks by the same coaches – the ones who are really Manchester United through and through.”
United cannot claim all the credit for developing McTominay, though.
“Me and my Dad, when I was younger, we used to do the cross country. I used to do that at school, we used to go on 5km runs on the promenade in Morecambe.
“There was big competition between us. He’d say, ‘I’ll beat you,’ and I’d say, ‘No chance’. That’s where the competition comes from.
“Even playing snooker in the back garden, if he ever let me win I would be fuming because that is just taking the mick. I would never have it.
“They’re the lessons that I look back on and think that’s why I cannot accept losing, because of playing pool in the back garden, going for runs and always wanting to beat him at football and stuff like that. It was an amazing time with him.”
The past season was a tricky one for McTominay to endure. A poor start to the campaign saw Jose Mourinho, the man who handed him his senior debut, sacked in December. Then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival – initially on a caretaker basis – had an uplifting effect on the team after he won 14 of his first 17 games in charge. But the season ended sourly; eight defeats in the final 12 matches saw United miss out on the Champions League.
“It was strange. Whenever you look back on that sort of season, you look at the start and the end – and it’s just completely so contrasting,” McTominay says.
“Obviously, that is always the case when you change managers and different things like that but it was a season full of roller-coaster moments.
“From scoring my first goal to such difficult games at Everton away and Wolves away – horrible games like that when I look back I just never want to experience that feeling again. It hurt everybody.”
There was no hangover from last season for United’s Premier League opener. McTominay started as they beat Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford.
“You can’t get too excited,” says the Scotland international.
“You saw that last year, we went on a run of 10/15 games with amazing results and then we didn’t get to the stage of playing as well in those games and the performances start to dip and people start to listen to things other people are saying. You just can’t lose focus on what’s in front of you – and that’s three points.”
Two performances that stick in McTominay’s mind from last season were those defeats at Molineux – where United return on Monday night, live on Sky Sports – in the league and FA Cup.
“They weren’t [Manchester United performances]. We have looked back at it and I’m sure everyone knows we are going to look back at it to try and determine the problems we had last year.
“We lost twice in two or three weeks – or whatever it was – and it’s about putting that right. It’s not about speaking about it, it’s about doing it.”
Where do United stand after their 4-0 win over Chelsea? Can they get back into the top top four this season? Will they challenge for silverware?
“It’s a difficult question after just one game,” McTominay says. “Manchester United is a club that is built around bringing young players through and winning trophies. That’s what we have to get to.
“Anything less than trophies is, for all of us, a disappointment. I’m sure the players and the staff will reiterate that. We really have to go to nail down a few different trophies.
“Of the ones that we are in obviously the Europa League is massive for us and so is the Premier League but you don’t want to set too unrealistic ambitions or too realistic ambitions. For us, as a whole, trophies are the goal this year.”