WHEN I handed Scott McTominay his Scotland debut against Costa Rica at Hampden back in 2018 in the first game of my second spell in charge of my country, I fully appreciated he was far from the finished article.

Yes, he had broken through into the first team at Manchester United and was featuring regularly under Jose Mourinho. But he was still a young kid, just 21, at the time. I knew he didn’t have all the answers.

In the first few matches I saw him play at Old Trafford he effectively just followed Paul Pogba about the pitch. Every time he got the ball he passed it to the Frenchman. 

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Fortunately, he has a very quick learner. He has improved his game enormously since then. He goes box-to-box now. He does his own thing. He is an individual in his own right. He has emerged from Pogba’s shadow. 

He has really blossomed as a midfielder in the United system. He is an automatic starter at one of the best clubs in England now. That is due to his attitude and the experience he has gained over the last few years. 

A lot of the young players I had in my second tenure were like Scott - new to international football and still developing their games. They needed to learn lessons from the mistakes they inevitably made.

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I was the one who got it in the neck when they did. But the only way you become better is by playing at the top level. A lot of the guys have shown they have the mentality and the skills as they have matured. McTominay is the perfect example of that. 

It is up to Steve Clarke what he does with his team selection for the opening Qatar 2022 qualifer against Austria tonight. He had a winning formula with Scott at centre half. It worked well. McTominay excelled there in the Euro 2020 play-off matches. Perhaps Stevie won’t want to change that for this campaign.

However, if Stevie does decide to move Scott forward into midfield, where he has been performing exceptionally for United, then he certainly has plenty of options at the back with Grant Hanley, Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna all in the squad for the Group F match this evening.  

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I definitely think he will stick with his three man defence. He has been pretty successful with that. I can’t see him changing that any time soon even though he has spoken about the need to be able to switch to a four at times. The team is comfortable with the formation.

Playing with a three certainly means he can fit both Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney into the same starting line-up. You need to get both of those terrific players in your team. How could you possibly leave one of them out?

The two of them have gone on to even bigger and better things at club level than they did when I had them in the Scotland set-up – Kieran is an FA Cup winner and an icon at Arsenal and Andy has obviously won the Champions League and the Premier League with Liverpool.

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Tierney isn’t your average centre half. When I had him he had limited experience as a left centre back in a three. That is why I experimented with that as well. I had to get him used to playing there for the reason I have outlined.  

Before the crunch Nations League games against Albania and Israel in 2018 I phoned him in advance and told him I was going to switch to a four and my intention was to play him at right back as my predecessor Gordon Strachan had done. Straight away he said: “I have got no problem playing there.”

He was right up for it. Unfortunately, by the time the game came around he was sidelined through injury. Callum Paterson had to roll the clock back and revert to the position he had played at Hearts. Everything worked out.

But I played Tierney at left centre half and I am sure he will remain there tonight. Who will Stevie play alongside him? I imagine he will not want to change the team too much. But it could be that Scott McKenna comes in and plays in the middle.

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Scott has been in good form with Nottingham Forest in the English Championship while Declan Gallagher has been injured for Motherwell. 

And on the right? Grant Hanley is experienced and has been playing well for Norwich in the Championship this season. It is very likely that he could start. 

It is an extremely difficult division. I have managed at that level and I know what it is like. The bottom team can beat the top team. But Norwich have been in consistent form this season and Grant has been one of their best performers. Stevie will have seen that.

The mood in the camp will be very high as a result of Euro 2020 qualification. That will empower the players. They will go onto the pitch in every one of their World Cup qualifiers thinking they can win.

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