Wilkins believes United have unearthed a diamond in the young midfielder.
He told the Manchester Evening News: “Sending him out for a season to Wigan in the Premier League helped him. Fergie puts his young players at clubs where they play the United way and Roberto Martinez does that. He learnt there over a long period that you are playing for your own and others livelihoods.
“Tom responded to that and, though he had a tough time with injuries last season, he looks like he’s going to be a key figure for United.
“He is always demanding the ball and if he gives it away he is not afraid to demand it back again. He’s got good control and plays the ball well and early. That’s what I like about him.
“I think he is going to be a central figure for the Reds for a long, long time.”