Creative Soccer Culture

Scott McTominay On Family, His Rapid Rise, & The One Thing Missing

Manchester United have a long tradition of producing talent through their famous youth academy, proving hands down that you indisputably CAN win things with kids. The current lineup is a continuation of that ethos, with the likes of Rashford, Greenwood, Tuanzebe, Williams and Scott McTominay all making their marks on the squad. And it’s with the latter that we spoke with recently, discussing his journey, the importance of family, and the one thing currently missing in his career.

United have been trying to regain their position at the top for what the fans would say is too long now, looking to plug the gaps in the squad with big money acquisitions that simply haven’t worked for one reason or another. But it could be that the answer has been right in front of them all along. Scott McTominay underlined the importance of the youth structure at the heart of Manchester United yesterday with a quick-fire double in the opening three minutes of the Red Devils’ 6-2 win over Leeds United, and it’s in the products of their world-famous youth setup that the club are finally beginning to rely on – and it’s paying off. 

Three years on from his debut, McTominay finally appears to be living up to the potential, and it’s been a rapid rise that we enjoyed talking through with the Scotland international when we spoke with him recently.

You’ve been at United since you were five years old – can you remember the first training session?

I actually do funnily enough. Even though it was 18 years ago. We used to go to the development centres and we had coaches there like Charlie Jackson and Mick Duxbury. My dad would take me there and watch me play. It was such good fun. At that age you just need to be enjoying your football more than anything so plenty of skills and tricks. It’s that stuff that stands you in good stead for the future. Whenever young kids ask me about me playing football when I was younger, I always just say make sure you enjoy playing football. Know what I mean? It’s so important to keep what you love about football close.

Are you a sentimental guy in that sense? Do you keep those memories from the past and the early introduction to the game close?

Yeah! It’s not just about looking back for me though. I just enjoy football whatever the situation. Say if you’re a bit down and you then go in and have a good training session, it will completely change your mood. Your mood changes as a whole when you play football. I could go and play football now in my back garden with friends for hours. It’s still all about having fun. In the summer, with my mates, it gets silly, it can go on for hours. That’s how much I’ve always enjoyed football. My dad always said to me when I was younger, “if you don’t enjoy something son, then don’t do it - there’s no pressure”. Thankfully for me and football, that was the hobby I loved and now it’s my so called “job”, while you have to work hard, you most importantly have to enjoy what you’re doing.

Do you remember getting your first pair of boots?

Yeah they were Preds. They were a joke. Black, white and red with the big red tongue. I have a photograph of them somewhere, I’ll have to dig that out. They were unbelievable boots, they really were. 

You must have gone through so many pairs of boots, it’s amazing to see how much a new pair excites you…

Yeah the new X Ghosted we got the other day, the kit man brought them over and they got such a reaction. Everyone loves new boots, I don’t care what anyone says, I don’t care who you are, everyone loves that fresh pair of boots. Same for trainers, if I get a fresh pair of trainers and you love them, it’s like you’re a kid at Christmas, it really is. I love those moments.

You touched on sneakers there… Can you see boots moving in the way that sneakers have? More collectable, have a strong visual look to them – statement pieces to a players wardrobe almost?

Yeah they are. Though you tend to wear a pair of boots over and over again. If something significant happens like you’ve scored an important goal or something big happens in a game then it’s nice to keep them aside. I wouldn’t say I’m too sentimental in ways like that though. I probably should be more. Like if I scored a big important goal, I should put the boots and shirt aside and keep them to treasure. Maybe something I’ll think about doing in the future.

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Flash forward and you’re an adidas endorsed athlete - what do you think of when you think of that journey and working with a brand like adidas?

Whenever I was younger and in the youth team, because I was a lot smaller than everybody else, all the others had boot deals before me because they were getting into the under-23s and the under-18s before me. I always looked at it like, “I love adidas”, I love what the brand stands for and appreciate the work they’ve been doing with the Ocean and Parley as an example. That’s a new concept but there were things going on at the time with Messi and other top endorsers and for me that was the brand I always wanted to work with. When that opportunity came along to link up with the brand, it was amazing. It feels like a lot of hard work has gone into becoming part of the brand and every time I wear the tracksuits or the shoes it feels special. The Superstar is my favourite shoe by a long way. I must have about 50 pairs. My mum isn’t not happy [laughs]. Seriously though, it has a really special feeling for me to be involved with a brand like this.

You come across as someone who is pretty switched on and engaging - how much do you like the opportunity to actually work with a brand when they’re making a new boot?

For me, I’d love to be more involved in that process just on a personal level. I’m genuinely interested in how a brand builds their shoes, how they make their clothes, the materials they use, the trends that they have created - all those elements around fashion fascinate me - like what might make a good hoody two years ago might not be on trend right now - those things really interest me. I like seeing how things evolve. It’s the same with football boots - the concept you get from brands and what you see out there in the football world is incredible. Every brand is trying to better themselves and make the game better. For me, I’d love to be involved in the process in the future. It would be top class and I’d make top boot if I was given the chance [laughs].

What did you make of the X boot and would you say it matches your personality?

It definitely matches my personality. Even when I get home from training or am with friends, I’m not one of those who is quiet - I have a lot of energy. I’m not loud but I’m always game for a laugh. I think football boots, especially the ones I like to wear show that. I like the lighter colourway and bright colours. Especially on a football pitch, you need that spark and energy and at times not to take yourself too seriously while still being an elite athlete - I think boots combine all of those things these days.

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White boots – are you that kind of guy?

Yeah 100%. I’ve said that to adidas before - white boots are the best boots. I love them. I don’t wear football boots to necessarily look good but having a boot that is bright and stands out, it comes with a level of feeling good - just like a crisp white pair of trainers.

On the subject of adidas – how big is your sneaker collection and have your tastes changed over the years - have you got more and more into trainers as an example?

You do for sure. My year group when I was breaking into the team and making it through the academy was a mix of ages. What you like when you’re 18 are so different to when you’re 23. Things move on quickly with trends and it’s important that you find out what your own tastes are. Say hoodies for example, I like a big, big hood. If the hood is really scrunched up then I don’t like them so much. I like looking for those details these days and I know what I’m into. It’s one of them, if something is a little out there, I’ll probably like it.

Working hard is the easy thing to say but how much graft goes into going through the united academy?

The first team coach alongside Michael Carrick, Kieran McKenna - he says this to me all the time, while there’s so much that goes into working hard, it’s not always about how much of a sweat you’ve got on when you finish or you’ve run around for 90 minutes and you’ve gone mad in pressing the opposition - it’s more about working smart. It’s as much about making the right decisions mentally as anything. That side of the game for our Manager, that’s what it’s all about. You have to put your all in and do everything for the team but you have to be smart in the approach too. Your thought process on and off the ball has to be smart. I’ve learnt that it’s not all about being 100mph. I’ve also learnt that people love somebody with a good attitude, but it’s about working smart when you do and don’t have the ball.

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Going back to the journey a little – when we talk about your rise, did you see mates fall away from football that drove you on to want to succeed?

Not fell away from football but might not have had as big an interest as I did. They might have been just as good of a player but didn’t have the same love for it. If any of my friends were in an academy or in a first team, I would not let them slip away. I would not let them let the game fall away from them. If they said to me “it’s not going my way in training today”, I would not have that from somebody that I cared about. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to slip out of football. In terms of boys who have come through with me, Callum Whelan as an example, we’ve pushed each other so much. For me it’s important that with your friends you have their best interests at heart as well as your own.

It’s important to surround yourself with good people in whatever walk of life – you clearly subscribe to that way of thinking…

I do 100%. You have to have people around you that say when the time is right, you can enjoy yourself with - say on holiday who will encourage you to relax, don’t let you think about football too much and take your mind of things in a good way but they have to be people who can help you when it’s a time to focus as well. You can’t have friends encouraging you to go out a couple of days before a game or going out for food the night before a game. They’re not the type of things friends should be encouraging you to do. Your friends need to encourage you to live like an athlete. That’s so important.

Three years since you made your United debut – it sounds like a long time ago but it’s been a mad, fast three years - how would you describe them?

Time does go stupidly quick and when you look back you do think, “maybe I should have done this, or that” but everything happens naturally and it flows. My dad was saying to me the other week about how fast everything goes and how you need to appreciate what is happening in the day to day. It’s so important to keep doing what you’re doing and not taking your foot off the gas because it can all be taken away so quickly.

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Do you feel like you’ve matured faster than most young people have to because of everything that comes your way? From the pressure to the fame, the wealth, even the hangers on, did you learn quickly who you are and what you’re into?

I’ve had the same group of friends since I was a kid. I’ve known my best friend for 18/19 years and he’s my one friend who will tell me the god's honest truth when I ask him about something. It’s the same with my other friends who I’ve known for years. Way before anyone notices you when you’re walking down the street. They’re not bothered about anything on the fame side of things, they’re purely looking out for Scott, the friend they’ve grown up with for years. In that respect, it’s part and parcel of the game - stuff happens. You see young players getting a lot of money really early on and that can easily go to someone’s head. Things like that you have to be aware of and tackle head on. The most important thing for me is that everyone is doing well and that my family is getting looked after. 

On your family, you’re in a position now where you can help and give back to them, that must feel good. Can you tell us about that?

Being able to give back to my family is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Outside of anything football related, knowing that you’re financially secure enough to support your family is the best thing that can happen. Honestly, it’s not a big headed thing. For me it was by far one of the most amazing things I’ve been able to do. Seeing my mum and being able to treat her to nice things is nice and should never be taken for granted. It feels so good to be able to help them. They’ve given me so much to get me here.

As you rise through the ranks at United, how does the culture change? How have you adapted?

From the under-18s to the under-23s, it’s all about building you up to prepare you for the first team. As much of that is about the culture as it is the competitiveness and demands of the very top of the game. Having been through it, I can tell you that is not important at all, any age in football - money is not the solution to happiness. My mum and dad have always stood by on that and passed on that advice. The most important thing to do is to let the commercial side and all that take care of itself - the only way it can do that though is by playing as well as you can. Really as a young player all you need to think about is pure football focus. That’s the key message when going up through the age groups.

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How much do you like people talking about you and almost being able to shut people down or create conversation through what you do on the pitch?

With myself, I always think opinions are opinions in football. That’s the way it goes. I’ve always been one of them that never takes too much pain from what people say. I’m sure there’s been millions of opinions out there probably a lot of bad but probably some good, too. It’s important that you don’t let things like that affect you. For my friends, you may hear them say “oh so and so was talking about you the other day”... that all becomes normal and you begin to accept that. For me, it’s about being happy and focusing on enjoying my game as a footballer – that’s all I can control so that’s where my energy goes.

It’s been a rapid rise to say the least – can you tell us what it’s like to be in your boots as you’re about to step out at Old Trafford as a first team player for the first time?

We obviously haven’t done it for a while in front of fans so that will be good to get that feeling back. Playing at Old Trafford is probably every kid in the world’s dream. To do something like that, sometimes you might not realise how fortunate you are to be doing things like that. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t take anything for granted. I always want to better myself. Our coaches have been massive for me with that in mind. Always wanting to improve my game, we’re always going through the smallest of details which can help your game.

Then to score, how does that change your life?

Yeah the messages of well done do come through and it’s a nice feeling. At some point you do think, these people didn’t message me when I was 16 and playing half a game in the under-16s so I always take the satisfaction from those people who have been there from the very start.

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On goals – you scored Utd’s 2,000th Premier League goal; is being part of history something you think about?

You don’t go into a game knowing or thinking about certain milestones or accolades. It’s not like you’d say, “I’m going to change my game so that I can reach this target – like the 2,000th goal” or whatever it might be. You just have to just take every game as it comes and give everything you have and ultimately do the best that you can. That’s all our coaches ask of us, that’s all the manager demands of us. “Play your game and do the best you can” – if things come with it then that’s great but if not, that’s also part of it. You have to learn from every moment.

Are there things about life as a professional player that surprised you? Like did you assume anything about what it would be like to play for United and then it was completely wrong?

Just how hard it is. It is not an easy profession to be in, football. There’s a lot of difficult things that happen along the way in your career. A lot of things are harder than others but so long as you’re always doing the right things and always hungry to improve yourself on and off the pitch then that’s the most important thing. For players out there where I was 5 years ago, that’s what you have to keep in mind. You’ll be fine if you stick to that way.

With that in mind, obviously no one wants to go through negative situations but are you grateful in a way that you’ve experienced them and learn from them? Injuries as an example – it now means you’re in a position to help others who may end up in that position…

Whenever I was in the under-18s, people were so quick to right you off. From people saying “he’s too small, he’s never going to grow”, “he’s all over the place with his coordination”, “he doesn’t look like that good of a player”, and then when you do grow people are still saying you’re not coordinated – it’s just all outsiders opinions. That’s it. When you get into the first team and you make your debut, you then shut people up. That’s life isn’t it – people aren’t going to be positive all the time and I wouldn’t surround myself with people who are always negative. For me, so long as my family are happy and honest then I will be happy too.

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This season, while the world has gone through all sorts, it’s been an incredible one for you – how does that new contract feel?

It does feel like the reward for the hard work that has gone in and a new contract is great and all that comes with it. But you don’t want to rest on that. Signing a new contract doesn’t mean you’ve arrived or anything like that. You have to prove yourself every game. Every training session you have to improve your game more and more until you retire. I’ll stand by that until I retire as well because until that day comes you have to keep doing that. If you don’t, someone will just come in and take your place. It’s ruthlessly competitive this game.

While in your mind, there’s still so much to achieve, have you had a moment to recognise the level you have got to?

Briefly. When the season ends, you have a holiday and take some time to relax and enjoy yourself but as soon as you get back through the door and home, it’s a quick turnaround. For me it’s about shutting down and not thinking about too much when you get that time to reflect and as soon as you get back to training and to games, it’s back to business and about doing the right things.

You’ve now played a great deal of games and been alongside such a rich character of players – does that reset your standards, knowing that you’re playing well alongside others?

Of course. You have to have your own vision and your mindset of what you want to achieve. I’m still yet to win a trophy. A contract means nothing until your 30 years old and you have ten trophies. That’s the goal and ambition. That’s where you want to take yourself. Until you get to that point, contracts and all those nice things that come with being a player are nothing until you achieve something like a trophy.

Thinking bigger picture, look at what Marcus Rashford has done during this lockdown period with the campaigning for free school meals - do you see your profile growing as a chance to shine a spotlight on initiatives?

What Marcus has done has been amazing. I’m conscious that there are a lot more experienced people than me who are doing great things though. If there’s something in the future that I can help with then I will most definitely go for it. If there’s a way for me to help children in the way I was helped when I was growing up then of course, you want to help wherever you can.

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The experiences you’ve had, adapting to life at the very top, how much does it feel like a trophy is now missing?

You wouldn’t even imagine. From seeing people pick up other trophies and things like that, it’s tough to see other people winning - it hurts. It’s not as easy as batting an eye lid as if a tournament or cup didn’t happen - I’m a winner so for me, it’s about asking “why have I not won a trophy yet, why has my team not got a trophy yet?”. I’m sure it’s coming very soon. I’m very very positive about that. It has to be the mindset - there’s no acceptance of anything less than trophies when you’re a Manchester United player.

Daniel Jones

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