We’re always very excited when an academy graduate gets a chance, but it’s always been a little bit different with McTominay. He’s never really looked spectacular, and for large periods of Jose Mourinho’s tenure it seemed he was just there because we didn’t have any other choice. That and the fact Mourinho adored him.
In the same way that Mourinho’s claim that getting Manchester United to 2nd in the league was his “biggest achievement” has been proven right, his praise of McTominay is being justified week in, week out.
For long periods many people felt, myself included, that whilst McTominay doesn’t do very much wrong, he also doesn’t really affect games. There was no reason to dislike him, but equally we’d all want the club to buy a top quality midfielder who can start ahead of him.
Fast forward to now, and he’s easily our best midfielder in Paul Pogba’s absence, both defensively and offensively. His height is extremely important, especially when playing alongside Fred. One of the main issues against Bournemouth on Saturday was the ease with which Jefferson Lerma and Phillip Billing could win headers in the midfield. He couldn’t compete with them both.
Something United are lacking right now is hunger. McTominay always plays as if he thinks he’s about to get subbed. His work rate doesn’t faulter, and he has a real desire to burst forward into the box rather than play another pass out to a full back.
It’s no mystery as to why he’s won a couple of penalties and picked up a couple goals this season, he commits players and tries to make things happen. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the technical ability to split defences regularly, but ideally that’ll be Pogba’s job when he’s fit.
The way McTominay handled himself against Chelsea, on a yellow card for the majority of the game, was very impressive. Not only did he consistently stop Chelsea attacks, he did it cleanly. He looked like a real leader in the middle, barking out orders to players far more senior than him.
It seems odd for a 22-year-old to be a serious contender for the captaincy of a Premier League football team, but it’s probably testament to the state of United’s current squad. Harry Maguire isn’t currently looking like the leader we need, and Ashley Young is being slowly phased out.
There is no obvious player who should be Manchester United’s captain right now, but McTominay should certainly be handed the honour for a domestic cup or Europa League game soon. It might just be the responsibility he can thrive upon.