Three years ago, on May 7, a young Scott McTominay made his Premier League debut for Manchester United. When Jose Mourinho handed the youngster his break into the first-team back then, not many would have imagined that the midfielder would grow into such an important figure at the club in such a short time.

During the 2017/18 campaign, Mourinho went on to use the Scotsman over Paul Pogba in a number of important matches. While it was done to prove a point to the Frenchman, McTominay made the most of the opportunities that came his way, slowly but steadily establishing himself as a regular in the first-team at Old Trafford. 

At the club’s End of Season awards in 2018, Mourinho would go on to name the young Scotsman the “Manager’s Player of the Year” - an accolade he invented, perhaps to make an example out of the senior players, including Pogba. But McTominay has never looked back from that point onwards. 

Mourinho’s exit would dominate the headlines the next season, but the Scotsman continued to make an impression whenever he was afforded the opportunity.

One of the most memorable moments of the 2018/19 campaign for United came in France, when they pulled off the unlikeliest of comebacks to oust Paris Saint-Germain from the Champions League in the Round of 16. Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford got the goals on the night, but McTominay’s performance in the middle of the park belied his age and inexperience.

The first half of Manchester United’s 2019/20 campaign was nothing much to write home about. But McTominay continued to impress, putting one energetic performance after another in the centre of the park. 

One moment that particularly stood out, that shed light into the midfielder’s character and leadership qualities came in the Carabao Cup contest against Chelsea back in October 2019.

It was the 92nd minute of the match and the Red Devils had the game in the bag, but McTominay was seen barking at his teammates to get into their positions in an animated manner. This came after he had bossed the midfield battle despite having been booked just ten minutes into the game.

So, when he picked up a back injury against Newcastle United on Boxing Day, it would naturally be a cause of concern for the Red Devils. Indeed, during the Scottish international’s absence between December and February, Manchester United failed to win four of their seven Premier League matches (D1 L3). 

Upon returning, the 23-year-old made an immediate impact, scoring an important goal in the 2-0 win over neighbours Manchester City in the Premier League. His return, coupled with the form of Nemanja Matic and Fred, has allowed January signing Bruno Fernandes to go about his attacking duties without worrying about the defensive side of things.

Till date, McTominay has made 27 appearances across all competitions, scoring five goals and creating one more in the process. The midfielder is Manchester United’s fourth-highest goalscorer this season with only Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood scoring more than the Scotsman.

So far in his 20 Premier League matches this term, McTominay has made five interceptions, 28 clearances and won 153 duels. In comparison, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has made 24 interceptions, 17 clearances, while winning 102 duels. Manchester City’s summer signing Rodri, on the other hand, has completed 21 interceptions, 24 clearances, while coming out on top in 137 duels.

These numbers go on to indicate the bite and tenacity that McTominay brings to the Manchester United side, who otherwise look soft and vulnerable in the centre of the park without the 23-year-old. A dominant force in midfield, the Scotsman adds more energy and composure to the team, while he has time and again shown that he is one of the leaders on the field, despite his young age.

Since his return from injury in February, the Red Devils have won five of their six matches in all competitions (D1). Manchester United's win percentage with McTominay in the side this season stands at 54 percent, and without the Scottish international, it drops to 48.

“You can almost say he is undroppable at the moment,” manager Solskjaer had said about McTominay, after Manchester United’s win against Tottenham Hotspur in December last year. And the 23-year-old has lived up to that billing with hard-working performances game after game, establishing himself as the beating heart of this Manchester United side.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ben Stansall