How Clarke helped end McTominay’s Man Utd slump and engineered a stunning turnaround

Scott McTominay verkeert in sensationele vorm voor Schotland en Manchester United sinds een openhartig duel met Steve Clarke voorafgaand aan de wedstrijd van vorig jaar tegen Cyprus.  <i>(Image: PA)</i>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/ 7ac71cf59f4e73″ data src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/ ac71cf59f4e73″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Scott McTominay has been in sensational form for Scotland and Manchester United since a heart-to-heart with Steve Clarke ahead of last year’s match against Cyprus. (Image: PA)

With the utmost respect to Scott McTominay, experienced player that he is, comparisons with Eric Cantona have probably not been too plentiful during his Manchester United career. But just over a year ago he had adopted one of the Frenchman’s infamous and less desirable traits.

Ahead of Scotland’s opening European Championship qualifier against Cyprus this time last year, McTominay was confused. He had not started a match for his club in the English Premier League since the defeat to Arsenal at the end of January and had to wait for any meaningful playing time.

As usual, he reported for international duty at the end of March, consciously never giving less than 100 percent for his country. But Scotland head coach Steve Clarke sensed something was wrong with one of his key figures.

A heart-to-heart followed, as well as a double against Cyprus and a further two goals to seal a famous win over Spain. Suddenly, McTominay’s frown was turned upside down, as was his form.

READ MORE: Scott McTominay on how this Scottish team can become one of the best in history

The weight lifted from his shoulders made him a major goalscoring threat for both Scotland and Manchester United, allowing him to force his way into Eric ten Haag’s thinking on a much more regular basis.

So McTominay might not be Cantona, and he’d be the first to admit it. But his importance to both club and country cannot be underestimated, and the unassuming Man United star gives Clarke much of the credit for a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes – and his mood.

“That was the camp where the manager and I sat down and he said I didn’t look happy, I didn’t look like I was smiling,” McTominay said.

“I thought, ‘Maybe he’s right.’ I went to talk to my mom, my dad, and my then-girlfriend and they all said pretty much the same thing.

“Sometimes you just have to enjoy football and play with a smile on your face and take it easy. Not everything is the end of the world if you don’t play very well and you’re not on the team, whatever.

“Since then, to be honest, all I’ve thought about is, ‘Let’s go for it.’ It was a burden lifted from my shoulders. It just goes to show you that if you talk to someone – especially the manager, because he’s honest and tells you up front – it can make a significant difference.

“He just said he wanted to see the kid who was happy when he first came on stage and played every week. He saw a boy who smiled all the time.

“Now I look back and think: yes, maybe sometimes the pressure and things like that can increase without you realizing that it can affect you. Sometimes it works out a little bit, and then you just have to take a step back and say, ‘Listen, let’s just play football, what it was like as a kid and enjoy it.’

“I wasn’t playing at the time, so I had put pressure on myself to play. I don’t like it when I don’t play. It hurts me when I don’t play. So obviously I’m going to be upset when I get into camp. I run onto the training pitch, I’m not sulking, but I want to play. It’s your livelihood, you want to be part of it as much as possible.

“After that conversation, of course, you kind of click and you just think, ‘You know what, you have one career, you might as well pursue that while you’re here.’

“You will always have difficult periods in your career where it is not easy and you will find it difficult to take a step back and think about where you have come from and where you want to go.

“Sometimes a conversation with the manager can be the best thing for you. It resets your brain, it resets your mind, and you think, ‘You know what, I can do this.’

“If I’m good enough and capable enough to play every game in the team, I want to show that I can win people’s trust.”

He certainly won Clarke’s, and the feeling is more than mutual. McTominay’s remarkable goal rush over the past year has been largely down to an inspired positional adjustment from the Scotland head coach, but the midfielder says it has as much to do with the belief he has instilled in him as anything else.

“I’ve never really lacked confidence to some extent,” he said.

“I have always prided myself on the fact that no matter how well I do or how poorly I played, I will still show in the next match that I still want the ball. I don’t avoid anything.

“I always wanted to be the player who doesn’t look like that, a nervous character.

“Sometimes I think things just click. You end up higher on the pitch and score more goals. It’s progress from there.

“It was more a matter of: if you have a little more license to get into the box, then you have to make the best of it.

“If there are four or five moments where you can get into the box, let’s take advantage of them.”

It’s all a far cry from the days when McTominay was called into action as a supporting centre-half for his country.

“For me, obviously I know I did that for the team, but deep down I knew I wanted to be in the penalty area and use my legs and strength to get through midfield and get into the penalty area. and score,” he said.

“But you can never sulk and say, ‘Damn, what’s happening here?’. No, you just have to take it step by step with the team and if that is the role you are given, then you take it and prove that you are capable of it.

“Then maybe when the time comes you could have a little chat, but I’ve never had to do that because the manager treats me so well and he always asks me certain things.

“I never had to knock on his door and say, ‘What’s going on here? I want to play here.’ He knows that’s what I want to do, and that’s kind of how it went.”

Given how prolific McTominay has become, it was with some surprise that the Tartan Army saw him and his teammates pass up a number of glorious opportunities in the final resounding defeat to the Oranje in Amsterdam on Friday evening.

READ MORE: Serious Scots are showing they are determined not to make fun of the euro

You sense a determination to put that right tonight in Hampden against Northern Ireland, and not to accept the waste on display in the Johan Cruyff Arena. And certainly not the late collapse that made a hitherto more than creditable performance seem insignificant.

“Not really [can we accept that]because in the last twenty minutes we know ourselves with the standards,” McTominay said.

“It was good for the first seventy minutes, but we have to score. We understand that we have to score.

“It’s not even a matter of if, but or maybe, you have to score the goals when you get the chances we had, myself included.

“When you win and the team plays well, it gives everyone a boost. That’s what we want for Scotland, to play against really good teams. We are playing against some of the best international teams in the world and I feel we have more than held our own. We’ve just been really unlucky a few times.

“But there will be a few games coming up where people will realize we can knock in three or four and suddenly it’s a different story.”

*Scott McTominay was speaking as he was named the William Hill Scottish Football Writers’ Association Men’s International Player of the Year.

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