‘No one would have taken Jesse Lingard when he was 16’

Date published: Thursday 1st March 2018 1:44

Former Manchester United player and coach Brian McClair has detailed some of the concerns the club had over the progress of Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay through their academy.

McClair played for United for 11 years after becoming one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first signings in 1987. After retiring as a player, the Scot took on a coaching role at Old Trafford before becoming United’s academy director in 2006.

The former Celtic striker oversaw the development of the likes of Lingard, McTominay and Marcus Rashford, who have all established themselves in Jose Mourinho’s first team.

McClair says the trio stood out from an early age, but their physical development meant that for McTominay and Lingard in particular, it was not a smooth road to the top.

“No one would have taken Jesse Lingard when he was 16 because he had the skeletal age of a 13-year-old,” McClair said in an interview with The Telegraph.

“We allowed him to take that opportunity. Scott McTominay had all sorts of problems with his growth. He was growing too fast and his body had to catch up and he missed time through injury. You support them in a different way. At one point we decided to tell him he has got an extra year because he’s fretting about it all the time.

“Jesse was one of the best players all the way through in each age group. He was brave. You just have to wait for them. They are always going to grow, you just don’t know when. They have all the other attributes. The biggest thing is to be patient with them. You have to be. They are going through all sorts of stuff.

“A few have a stellar rise later but you can ask who were the best players in the youngest age groups and the coaches will say Marcus, McTominay, Jesse – even at seven or eight. We had to believe that would continue.

“The biggest challenge for any young boy is getting through puberty: looking at themselves in the mirror, styling their hair, putting smelly stuff on and noticing girls. If they get through that and still love football they have a chance.”

McClair also watched Paul Pogba at close quarters as a youngster before the midfielder moved to Juventus.

Over a season and a half since United bought him back for a club-record £89million, a debate still rages about the 24-year-old’s best position. McClair has dismissed suggestions that he should be an effective box-to-box midfielder.

“We viewed him as a creative player. I think people may get the idea because of his size he is a Patrick Vieira but that’s not what his attributes are about.

“His is about creating and scoring goals. He’s an old inside left.”

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