Scott McTominay’s face lights up when reminded of last week’s derby triumph for Manchester United.
He is not the type to dwell on the past. Not even sharing the same pitch as Lionel Messi, twice, last season. But that 2-1 win against Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions was special.
“I know so many Liverpool fans, so many Manchester City fans and it’s beautiful!” he says. “I love it. I thrive off those moments, I love it. I live for that stuff.”
Now, the midfielder admits, it’s time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to prove such moments aren’t just fleeting highlights in a season and that United truly are on course to return to the summit of English football.
A record that has seen them beat Leicester, Man City, Chelsea – twice – and Tottenham this season, as well as drawing with runaway leaders Liverpool, points to the strides being made by Solskjaer. Yet United remain five points adrift of the top four, which owes to the inconsistency that has badly undermined their campaign.
“Those moments, you want five or six of them a season,” says McTominay. “You don’t just want one or two where you’re playing against the big teams and you win. You want them and to be rewarded at the end of the season.
“We know that. We know we need trophies and need to be back there at the top of the Premier League contending every season and it’s a process where we’re not going to get too ahead of ourselves after a good week.
“I never look back. Like after the game the other day against Man City, I never look back and think: ‘We’ve just done that to Manchester City in their own backyard’.
“One game’s done, onto the next one, let’s win that one.”
It’s easy to see why McTominay was such a favourite of Jose Mourinho, a man who championed the 23-year-old’s emergence at Old Trafford, despite scepticism from some sections of support. Solskjaer, too, has made the Scotland international the heartbeat of his midfield.
McTominay is a dream to manage. He grew up idolising Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick – ultimate professionals – even if he would have loved to have been a Paul Scholes or Zinedine Zidane.
Despite his tender years, he speaks like a veteran and readily accepts the role of leader on the pitch.
Ahead of United’s 4,000th consecutive game with a home-grown product in their squad – against Everton on Sunday – he is the embodiment of the club’s rich traditions of youth development.
“Whenever we were growing up here, the main thing that was being spoken about was being a good person first and foremost,” he says. “A Man United person is always someone who’s polite, humble, got respect for people, but as soon as they get on the pitch they’ve always got that little bit of an edge to them. They’re always different to other players.
“Whenever league managers ask a reserve team manager for a Man Utd player, they always know what type of person and player they’re getting.”
Part of that development includes keeping your feet on the ground, McTominay adds – revealing United’s measures to avoid success going to young players’ heads.
“It’s just general standards in day-to-day life,” he says. “Going to school, being punctual, always turning up on time, always wearing black boots until you get to the reserve team, where maybe you’ve got a different boot contract and stuff like that.
“But whenever you’re a young player in the youth teams and below, you always wear black boots, you always turn up to meetings on time, you always go to school – everybody does the same thing.
“There are no big egos, there’s no young kids coming in wearing jewellery and looking a bit flash, that’s not the case at this club. If a young player is doing that in the canteen, I would certainly be one to say something and the same with other boys in the first-team, and the manager as well.
“They’re just fine details that bring you up as a person, it brings you up to be respectful, hard-working, humble and respect those around you.
“I didn’t like the black boots. But you had to do it. You had to respect the rules. I probably couldn’t tell you one player in the club who likes wearing black boots, but it was the rules and something every academy player is accustomed to. If someone tried to come out in red boots it’s like, ‘You’re no different to any of us so get your black boots back on until you earn the respect and right to wear coloured boots.’
“You don’t realise at the time how much little things like that are going to help you. You think, ‘This is rubbish’ and ‘What’s going on?’ but then you get older, you look back and you think all of those little things have stood you in so much good stead.
“Now I look back and, being one of the older academy players now, those standards have been passed through, so everybody has the idea of what a Manchester United player should look and be like, the DNA that comes with wearing that badge.”
McTominay is now considered virtually undroppable by Solskjaer, but he wasn’t always so appreciated on the terraces. He thanks Mourinho for his faith, but has still had to handle criticism.
“I was just being myself, someone who effectively just wanted to go out there and give my life for the football club and for him as well as the manager,” he says. “Mourinho would always want people who would go on the pitch and give absolutely everything. That’s what I did and I tried to show him I was a good player and he’s been amazing with me.
“He’s a man who me and my family hold very, very close to our hearts.”
As for handling those who doubted his ability, particularly on social media, he is unfazed. “Stick is stick,” he adds. “People can say what they want. You have to be thick-skinned in football and if you’re not then you just go under. That’s so easy to do.
“You see it a lot with boys taking too much to heart what people have to say. I’m a big boy, I can accept somebody saying their opinion and I can give my opinion back.
“If somebody came over to me in the street and said their opinion on me, if it was negative or positive, I would respect it and probably say mine back!
“Whenever you’re young, nobody ever really coaches you on how to deal with people on Twitter, people online. For me, it’s sink or swim.
“You have to learn your own ways of dealing with it, whether that’s not looking at it, looking at it when it’s good, looking at it when it’s bad. You can’t get caught up. You just have to take it with a level head and a pinch of salt.
“Obviously my mum, if something not nice is written about me, I just tell my mum to keep clear of it and just enjoy it while you can.”
McTominay is certainly enjoying it but knows that being an academy graduate, alone, will not be enough to hold onto his place in Solskjaer’s revolution. United are rightly proud of a record that dates back to 1937 but youth products only stick around if they prove their worth.
“The manager has said that to us, the best players are going to play and that’s simple whenever you walk into a dressing room,” he adds. “It’s not just playing academy players for the sake of it, it’s playing them because he believes in those players and believes he can win trophies playing us.
“Hopefully next season and the seasons to come we can go on and win trophies as well. That’s got to be the dream.
“I need that thrill of winning trophies and especially this football club, there’s nowhere better to do it.”