Scott McTominay choosing Scotland over England was a no-brainer
When men such as Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho look you in the eye and tell you they think you should do something, it's probably quite difficult to take it as a mere suggestion. It's more akin to a papal bull; something not to be ignored.
"Sir Alex Ferguson was keen for Scott to play for Scotland as well," Scott McTominay's grandfather said earlier this month. "He was up front about it. I know that for a fact. I can say that without fear of getting contradicted. That has been kept under wraps. He and Jose Mourinho were both quite keen on it over the last month or two."
But McTominay's decision to play international football for Scotland rather than England -- to play for the nation of his family rather than his birth -- was not merely directed by Ferguson's and Mourinho's preferences.
"I wanted to play for Scotland -- and I always have done, since I was a young boy, so it was an incredibly proud moment when he [Scotland manager Alex McLeish] did call me up," the Manchester United midfielder said this week.
That's the emotional part of the decision. Then there was the matter of who seemed to want him more too.
"McLeish made a huge effort getting to Carrington to meet up with him, because it was in the middle of the bad weather that we had," Brian McClair, who coached McTominay at the United academy, told the BBC. "He made it, put a case. Gareth Southgate sent him a text."
A player who is given the choice between representing England and Scotland will also have in mind the pragmatic reality that they are likely to win more caps with the latter. It might not be immediately obvious given the state of the current England squad, but the talent pool is deeper south of the border than it is north.
But even if none of this was the case -- even if he didn't feel the emotional pull, even if McLeish hadn't made a big effort to recruit him, even if there wasn't a better chance of more caps -- then the choice between England and Scotland should probably be pretty clear.
Perhaps McTominay read some of the excerpts from Kieron Dyer's autobiography, released recently, in which he discussed his experiences with the England team.
"I sat next to a player on the bench once who had played for Liverpool and other leading Premier League clubs and the fans were giving the lads a bit of stick," Dyer wrote. "He turned to me and said: 'I hope I don't get on today.' That was what it was like with England. That is what it is still like. Too many players are afraid to make a mistake, because they know they will get battered by the media and fans if they don't do well."
This was confirmation of what we probably already knew, that playing for England is essentially a joyless existence. Defeats are a disaster, victories are expected, and the prevailing emotion is of relief rather than jubilation when matches are won. Players live in fear, unable to reproduce the form they show for their clubs. But on a more basic level, they are simply unable to enjoy themselves.
We have seen it many times at major tournaments, players are paralysed and head for the same underwhelming exit. The last European Championship was an exception because it was a complete disaster, rather than merely a dispiriting shuffle home.
In short, if given the choice, why would anyone want to be part of that? Why would anyone wish to think of an upcoming international break with dread? Why would you want to be in the position of that unnamed player in Dyer's book, hoping a manager doesn't call upon you?
With Scotland, things are different. The team might not be as good on paper, there might be more run-of-the-mill defeats, and they might not reach as many tournaments, but at least they won't suffer from the same crippling joylessness.
And when they do reach a tournament, the atmosphere will be completely different. It will mean so much more. Consider Wales at Euro 2016: do you think that Aaron Ramsey, for example, would trade that single summer of a lifetime with a team that played football with less pressure, free from the weight of years past, for the half a dozen tournaments he would probably have appeared in if he were English?
McTominay made the decision to represent Scotland for many reasons, some rational and some emotional. But by the simple fact that playing for them instead of England will almost certainly be more fun, it was virtually a no-brainer.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.