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Gary Neville and Jose Mourinho's handbags over Scott McTominay

Tuesday 15th May 2018

Jose Mourinho and Gary Neville remain mired in the first stage of their Donald Trump/Kim Jong Un relationship. Don’t ask me who's who. You can’t tell by their haircuts. I suppose if GNev is the North Korean dictator that makes Paul Scholes Xi Jinping, but if he’s Trump, it makes his old teammate the Ginger Pence. I’ll leave it to you.

The latest difference of opinion between the new Manchester United boss and the old captain regards the best role in the squad for Scott McTominay. The Red Dog recently suggested the young Lancastrian would be better suited to centre-back than the defensive midfield.

I'm not sure he's actually good enough on the ball to be a Man United midfield player. I do think he's the type that it's good for him to play games in there, but I do wonder whether if actually he's got more of a position at centre back eventually, the physicality that he has. He's a big lad.

The Special One ordered Rui Faria to raise the deflector shield on his way out then tried to make the argument about every other thing for which the club has been criticised this season.

It depends the way you want to analyse it. If you want to be positive and respect the effort of everyone and the clear numbers and pragmatic numbers of the improvement, you say all positive things:

  • the best position for five years,
  • a huge amount of points that would normally give a fight for the title until the last few weeks,
  • lots of clean sheets, Golden Glove,
  • more goals than last season
  • and the second-best team in the country.
  • Also...we are playing the [FA Cup] final

So, if you want to read it in a positive way, you can in a very objective way. But if you want to be negative, you can always be negative. You can be negative until the point that you say that Scott McTominay, who is a kid who arrived here at nine years old, is not good enough. So if you want to be negative, you can be negative without dimensions.


That is a big ball of string that never actually addresses whether McTominay should be groomed as Nemanja Matic’s successor or Chris Smalling's. Even though Mourinho’s response wasn’t a tweet, I think we now know which actor is Trump. Let’s treat the Portuguese like he is POTUS45 and fact-check his rant.

  • First, what is this notion that only a positive analysis is objective? Is GNev part of the #FakeNews brigade because he had an independent thought? Objective views are neither positive nor negative. They're impartial and rational.
  • As for negative without dimensions, I’ve always admired the multiple layers Mourinho brings to the process.
  • Yes, United finished in its best position since Fergie retired. Shouldn’t the United boss be considering how to improve on that?
  • United’s 81 points would have won the Premier League from 1997-99, then in 2001, 2011, and 2016. It would have finished within six points on seven other occasions. Roughly half the time isn't "normally". Then again, United's 13-point deficit going into Week 33 this season, when defeat to West Brom eliminated them, meant the Red Devils were fighting for the title mathematically in the season's final weeks. Jose slyly gave himself latitude.
  • Clean sheets, Golden Gloves? Yay, David de Gea. But it wasn’t the Spaniard who GNev suggested was playing out of position.
  • "More goals than last season" but still less than every other top six-club except Chelsea.
  • What would Mourinho say if Arsene Wenger had expressed pride in finishing second?
  • Or in winning the FA Cup?
  • Finally, Scott McTominay is 21-years-old now, not nine. He's an adult. Let him be judged on his work.

Okay, what about his work? Neville said he “wasn’t sure” the Scottish international is any good on the ball. He didn’t say the lad was hopeless in possession, only inferring there was room for improvement. So, how does he rate? Eden Hazard led the Premier League in completed dribbles with 4.9 this season. McTominay ranked 16th in United's squad with 0.4.

The young star will advance the ball himself in open space. That might be a byproduct of his occasional duty as a striker with the Red Devils U23 squad, but you don’t see him taking on defenders in close quarters like Matic will attempt now and again. To be fair, his reluctance could be down to Mourinho thinking of him as a nine-year-old and forbidding the freckle-faced, 6’ 4” tyke from trying to be the second coming of Paul Pogba unless he wants to be grounded for the summer.

Assuming that in a year or two McTominay doesn’t develop his dribbling skill, is there any reason beyond his size that might have inspired Neville to advise a move into central defence? The answer is yes, yes there is.

During Neville’s time at Old Trafford, he often played with John O’Shea. The 6’3” Irishman played across the back four and in central midfield, not to mention a spell in goal against Tottenham when Edwin van der Sar took a knock. O'Shea scored a goal here and there,  including a winner in added time at Anfield in 2007. He's 37 now and absorbing the pain from a second consecutive relegation with Sunderland. The Irish greybeard's size and game differ little from the youngster’s. McTominay has more pace but that’s about it.

Nor is O’Shea the only player with the versatility to play more than one role. Phillip Lahm alternated between central midfield, right and left back during his time with Bayern Munich. Young Joshua Kimmich has stepped into Lahm’s cross-trainers since the Bayern and die Mannschaft captain hung them up. Javier Mascherano made the switch from d-mid to centre-half when he transferred to Barcelona.

It’s not an unprecedented switch then. Nor is it the end of the world. McTominay may develop into United’s next destroyer or its jack-of-all-trades. It’s too early to tell but just the right time to consider all the possibilities.

Manchester United News
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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