In February 2018, a moment of national significance unfolded in Greater Manchester.
From the outside, Manchester United’s Carrington base looked like any other Premier League training ground. More pitches than a Glastonbury campsite and a row of luxury cars worth almost as much as Scotland’s new high.
Inside, however, a standoff was about to be won.
On one side you had Gareth Southgate, the England manager. At the other was his Scottish counterpart Alex McLeish. The price? A 21-year-old player named Scott McTominay, whose international allegiance was at stake.
What Southgate failed to negotiate, however, was that McLeish also had then-United boss Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson keen to have a quick word with the English-born midfielder. .
Suffice to say that Mr. Southgate didn’t stand a chance.
Fast forward five years and four goals from two games, and McTominay is a national treasure helping a hopefully endemic Scotland chart the course to Euro 2024.
As a youngster brought up at Manchester United’s academy, the man with a Helensburgh father originally received his first United contract as a teenager. As for vouching for someone’s ability, that’s fine.
“Sir Alex Ferguson was also keen on Scott playing for Scotland. He was outspoken about it,” his grandfather said. Frank said in 2018.
“Sir Alex has been very good to Scott over the years. He gave him his first contract with Manchester United when he was 16 before retiring and then made sure it was extended at the age of 18. He seems to be getting along well with him.”
You wonder what his former mentor would have thought watching his young protege forge a path Spain could only dream of stopping. In a sizzling performance as Scotland cruised to a 2-0 victory, McTominay had ice in his veins.
His international debut ended in a dismal defeat to Costa Rica shortly after McLeish’s spell at Carrington, but from a humble start McTominay’s reputation in a Scottish band swelled.
The scenes began in October 2021 when he netted a late Hampden winner against Israel for his first goal. Two more were added against Cyprus on Saturday in another finishing masterclass.
And on his 39th cap on Tuesday, McTominay once again excelled.
His first game after seven minutes had an element of luck, while his timing and finishing to give Scotland a 2-0 lead after the break had the predatory instincts of a seasoned striker. Considering that’s now four goals in two games, maybe add that to his growing list of positions?
“We did really, really well,” he said on Viaplay. “We knew they would have a lot of the ball, and the manager said to be clinical when we had chances, and I thought we had enough chances to really hurt them and score goals.
“As a kid I was an attacking midfielder – I like getting into the box. I have to keep doing that, I know I can add more goals and assists to my game.
“The manager said this was our chance to create a legacy as Scottish players and these are the nights in 20, 30 years that people remember. We can’t thank the fans enough.”
It says so much not only about McTominay’s character, but about his commitment to the cause, that the 26-year-old now has it in him to live those moments.
A favorite among United backing, regular departures have been hard to come by and there has been talk of a move away from Old Trafford. Despite this, his class shone for Scotland as Steve Clarke’s side sit proudly top of Group A.
“There are things that happen in football that are quite bizarre sometimes. McTominay is not getting a game for Manchester United and he is now using all his energy to do the best he can for Scotland,” said the former Scottish manager Craig Levein.
“It’s one of those things that has clicked into place. His performances have been unbelievable, he has athleticism that not many players have. He bursts out wanting to get into that position and that has worked for him and for the team.”
Now he and this Scottish team have a chance to build something tangible once again.
Two games in Group A and two victories were achieved. A new-look Spain look disjointed – despite coach Luis de la Fuente’s claims to the contrary – while Norway’s gift in the absence of Erling Haaland will be greeted with gratitude by the Scots who already have five points. advance on them.
However, it’s not until a trip to Oslo has been arranged in June and Georgia’s visit to Glasgow has been taken care of that the tartan army will really dare to dream.
It may just be the start for Scotland, but what a start.