Lost amid criticism of Alex McLeish’s ill-fated second tenure as Scotland’s manager was the delivery of an obviously positive legacy. It was McLeish who convinced Scott McTominay to pledge his international allegiance to the Scots rather than England, the country of his birth.
McTominay’s form for club and country throughout the 2020-21 season has underlined the fact that Scottish fans have plenty to thank McLeish for. At Euro 2020, McTominay will be central to Scotland’s hopes and dreams.
McTominay is a likely starter as Scotland face Luxembourg in their final pre-Euros friendly match on Sunday evening. The 24-year-old appears to have quickly shrugged off the disappointment of Manchester United’s Europa League final loss to Villarreal, which concluded their domestic season on 26 May.
“It just feels bad whenever you lose a final but it lights a spark and you don’t ever want to experience that feeling again,” McTominay said. “I have watched the game back and have realised where we went wrong or didn’t do as well as we should have as a team. It’s a feeling I don’t ever want to have again and it has lit a spark in me to keep going for more.
“I’ve had a break, it’s good to be back with the boys and I’m ready to go. I’m looking forward to it [the Euros] and can’t wait to get going. Every boy’s dream is to play in major tournaments like this, World Cups and European Championships, so it’s nothing but a privilege. It’s something I will look back on later in my career and be thankful.”
The midfielder bridles at the notion Scotland – fourth seeds in a group that also features England, Croatia and the Czech Republic – should be grateful for tournament involvement. “I want us to come and play, we are not here to make up the numbers,” McTominay added. “I have said that before and I stand by that comment. I want us to go and play to our potential.”
McTominay’s commitment to national service, not least for what is technically an adopted nation, reflects positively not only on himself but the environment created by Steve Clarke. “We have a lot of boys in the squad who play for big clubs but are absolutely proud and determined to do well for their country,” Clarke explained. “That’s where you want to be.
“The more success we get as a group the better that will become. We have the young ones coming into the group and you want them to develop the hunger for the next tournament.”
Clarke talked over the Europa League defeat with McTominay, with Scotland’s manager determined that one of his star turns focused on his own prominent showing in Gdansk. The Scottish display – minus key players, including McTominay – in the 2-2 draw against the Netherlands on Wednesday turned heads to the point where Clarke’s recurring positivity has merit. Scotland left their training base in Spain on Saturday; they will head to the north-east of England after the Luxembourg fixture, which takes place at the Stade Josy Barthel in the capital of the grand duchy.
“All the lads have been fantastic in training,” the manager said. “This camp has been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of how good they have been.
“They’ve been absolutely fantastic. I think you saw a bit of that in the Netherlands performance and hopefully you see a bit more against Luxembourg. It has been a pleasure to be the head coach and watch these training sessions.”
Clarke revealed he will leave it up to his squad whether they will take the knee before their Euro 2020 games, including against England at Wembley on 18 June. The Scots have recently opted to stand in solidarity with anti-racism messages before games. The booing that formed the backdrop to England players taking the knee before Wednesday’s meeting with Austria has sharpened focus on the issue, with a change of approach from Scotland possible.
“That’s probably a conversation I will have with the players before we play our first game,” Clarke said. “And then we will decide which way we are going to do it throughout the tournament, whether that’s to take a stand against racism or take a knee. We will decide as a squad and then we will carry that all the way through the tournament.”