Jose Mourinho wasn't a fan of many of his central defenders at Manchester United, but there was one he reserved special praise for.

He only used Scott McTominay as a centre back on two occasions and they were fixtures which played a part in the Portuguese manager losing his job at United, the damaging 3-1 defeat at West Ham United and the 2-2 draw at Southampton.

But Mourinho always saw something in McTominay and while you might expect a central defender to be on the wrong end of criticism when United concede three at West Ham, that wasn't the case.

"I felt we needed quality on the ball on the building up from the back and Scott McTominay has that quality with the ball," Mourinho said after defeat at the London Stadium.

"Everything that left his foot was correct, was accurate, the passes to Ashley Young on the right, the passes to Matic, the passes to the striker, everything was accurate from him.

"A part of a special character, a special personality, that a team in a negative moment needs this kind of mentality like Scott McTominay has."

McTominay was almost Mourinho's pet-project during his time at Old Trafford and the academy graduate was damned by association. When Mourinho was sacked the assumption was the Scot would drift back to obscurity and eventually leave the club too.

But the "special character" the former United manager so valued prevented that from happening. McTominay has twice signed a new contract since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's arrival and it was no surprise to see him back in the team to face Newcastle. After the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham two weeks ago this was a time for character and leadership and few players in the United squad posses as much as McTominay.

Holding down a place in this United midfield won't be easy though. Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek were all on the bench at St James' Park.

But McTominay's versatility is a bonus. He played as a striker in United's academy and has played attacking midfield roles under Solskjaer. The Norwegian hasn't continued the Mourinho experiment of fielding him in defence, however, perhaps unsurprisingly given the number of actual central defenders still at United.

The reality is at least two of those - Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo - are free to leave the club and questions hang over the rest of them, from fitness with Axel Tuanzebe to the consistency and concentration of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof.

And while Solskjaer hasn't taken note of Mourinho's playbook, Scotland boss Steve Clarke has. McTominay's last five appearances for his national team have come as a right-sided centre back in a back three, the same position that he was fielded in for those games against West Ham and Southampton.

As Solskjaer considers his defensive options for tonight's Champions League opener against Paris St-Germain, perhaps McTominay should be on his mind. The 23-year-old is unlikely to play in a back four, but he could do a job in a back three. With Lindelof and Tuanzebe likely to start against PSG's devastating attack, the insurance policy of a third central defender might be a wise move.

It would also give United another option when it comes to trying to build play from the back as well as an alternative if Solskjaer decides to use the back three in the future.

Mourinho and Clarke aren't the only ones to see McTominay as a potential centre back too. Gary Neville floated the idea during commentary on United's 3-0 win at Brighton in July.

"I just watch McTominay play and I think of all that competition in midfield and I wonder whether he could be used as a centre-back," the former United right-back said.

“He’s got the aggression and he’s got the speed. His understanding of the game is pretty good and he’s still young.”

That aggression and the character of McTominay make him a valuable inclusion, but finding a place for him isn't always easy. A new role at centre back could be a realistic alternative.