Neil Humphreys: Scott McTominay evolves from boy to midfield monster
McTominay primed for United's biggest week in years
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer owes his job to Scott McTominay.
The manager promised to bring back the Manchester United way with young guns playing fast football.
For the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson, the kids were going to be all right again.
And here we are. With perfect serendipity, United's most important week since Ferguson's retirement partially rests on the shoulders of a player who began his professional career just after Ferguson's retirement.
McTominay signed his first contract in July 2013, two months after Ferguson stepped down and promised a bright future with a different Scotsman.
Well, Fergie got the nationality right at least. McTominay happens to be a Scotsman, but everything else about United's succession policy went wrong.
Managers came and went, and academy graduates mostly played second fiddle to expensive purchases. It's been a long seven years.
But tomorrow morning (Singapore time) marks the beginning of a possible change in the club's fortunes.
A win at Burnley sends the Red Devils to the top of the English Premier League. A decent result at Anfield on Monday morning will keep them there.
United's title-challenging credentials could be officially rubber-stamped, in Liverpool of all places, the home of the infamous perch that Ferguson once obsessed over and the current seat of power.
And McTominay finds himself at the centre of this sudden, unexpected charge, literally and symbolically, the poster boy for Solskjaer's homegrown talent and a clear link to Fergie's halcyon days.
Like United's recovery, the road has been a long one for the 24-year-old. He joined the club as a five-year-old and spent his youth career as a centre-forward.
A delayed growth spurt concerned academy coaches, but Jose Mourinho recognised the potential in the young, Scottish battler.
McTominay was erratic in his distribution and his positional awareness needed work. But he never lacked heart.
In fact, his match-winning performance against Watford at the weekend, nodding in the only goal of the FA Cup tie, encapsulated his mercurial progress.
He was appointed skipper for the first time, allowing Solskjaer to once again go heavy on the youthful symbolism.
McTominay was the fourth graduate to captain United for the first time under Solskjaer, following Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.
The armband, the goal and a couple of key interceptions felt like a natural crescendo in the young man's narrative, the perfect end to a first act that began when he was picked out from a crowd at the age of five.
But McTominay also misplaced passes. He doesn't quite dominate tackles with the same tenacity as Fred and may not quite read the game as well as Donny van de Beek (when he's playing for Holland at least).
As a result, Solskjaer didn't entirely trust McTominay initially, leaving the midfielder out of his early matchday squads.
But, this time around, the Scotsman has featured in every domestic and European squad when fit.
While another midfield teammate expended too much energy plotting a move away from the club, McTominay quietly worked on his shortcomings and with good reason.
To borrow that awful tagline from United's rivals, it means more to McTominay. He's already playing for the club of his childhood dreams. As far as he's concerned, the only way is down from Old Trafford.
So he reinvented himself as Mr Consistency. In a holding role, he still utilises those skills picked up as a teenage striker. His four goals in all competitions put him level with Edinson Cavani.
His tireless commitment and his eye for the odd goal make him a welcome, box-to-box hybrid, the calibre of which hasn't really been seen since that other midfield skipper.
Comparing any United talent to Roy Keane is always a risky business, saddling McTominay with unfair expectations. But the unavoidable reality is Keane relished weeks like this one. He lived for them.
McTominay must learn to do the same.
His manager has already called him "a monster of a human being". A week from now, the Red Devils will know if Solskjaer's faith in McTominay was justified.