No Country For Young Men

No Country for Young Men: Jose Mourinho, Reputation, and Manchester United

After three years of side passes, terrible man management, and 60th minute fullback subs, the Louis Van Gaal era at Manchester United is now over. After David Moyes was unable to fill the massive void left behind by Sir Alex Ferguson (and to be fair, the Manchester United job was the most impossible job in world football at the time), Louis was brought in to right the ship. With a warchest of gold to splash on world class players and a pedigree of winning titles at some of the world’s most illustrious clubs, Louis’ arrival was greeted with much fanfare. However, the Dutch manager often had United looking like a horse and buggy racing against a car. Unable to get themselves out of second gear, United often looked lethargic, second-best, and dependant on the palms of David De Gea (and a dodgy fax machine).

The sole redeeming part of Louis’ tenure is the abundance of youth promoted and flourishing within the first team. Unlike many other clubs, playing academy players in the first team is in the ethos of Manchester United. You would have to go back to 1937 to find the last time that a homegrown player did not feature in a Manchester United matchday squad. While Louis was forced into using the yutes due to massive injury concerns ravaging the first team, the likes of Fosu-Mensah, Borthwich Jackon, Varela, Jesse “Dabberman” Lingard, and of course Marcus Rashford saved United’s season and quite possibly prevented an early departure from the manager’s seat at Old Trafford. While the first team looked out of their depth, the United youngsters attacked with flare, pashun, and deziyah not seen since the days of Fergie. It became apparently clear that along with those young starlets along with players such as Luke Shaw, Adnan Januzaj, the brilliant Anthony Martial, the immensely talented Andreas Pereria, and the mercurial Memphis Depay, Manchester United are a team in transition who’s best players are tykes.

With such a promising crop of young starlets, why in the world would United hire renowned serial-loaner Jose Mourinho?! It’s been well documented that the Chelsea first team under the Special One has been a notoriously hard nut to crack. The stories of Lukaku and De Brunye — two players shipped out because they “lacked the talent” to be of help to Chelsea, only to become world class prospects — come to mind. Jose has developed a reputation for preferring ready made talents to plug into the first team than nurture young talent to eventually take the reins. This quality makes the match of Mourinho and United seem misaligned at best. In fact, Jose and United may be a match made in heaven.

Kurt Zouma, Raphael Varane, Eden Hazard, Petr Cech, John Terry, Arjen Robben, Mario Balotelli, Alvaro Morata, Jese, Ricardo Carvalho, and Karim Benzema are all players that featured heavily in Jose Mourinho teams under the age of 24. Many of these highly touted talents owe their current stature in world football to nurturing done by a Jose Mourinho managed team early on in their development. All of them were featured players in Mourinho sides as young players regardless of whether they were bought or brought through the club academy.

Contrary to popular belief, Jose has actually shown faith in young players while the clubs that he was currently at featured very few world class prospects at the time. While Chelsea has been rattling off Youth FA Cups in recent history, John Terry is the last Chelsea academy player in their line up. Owner Roman Abramovich’s directive was to mold Chelsea into an elite club immediately and that meant adding ready-made talent to the squad. With a blank check, Jose was given the resources to (and was expected to) improve his squad as soon as possible. In fact, the first sign of beef between Roman and Jose was Roman’s purchase of and insistence on playing Andriy Shevchenko, a player who Roman was after for years before finally able to purchase in 2006 for a club record fee from Milan.

Real Madrid’s academy at the time of Jose’s tenure as manager of Los Blancos wasn’t as talented as La Masia, but he still managed to give Varane, Morata, and Jese plenty of first team games. Also at Madrid, a youth-based focus would have gone directly against President Florentino Perez’ ideology. Obsessed with combatting Barcelona’s golden generation, Perez signaled that he was determined to bring in the world-class players needed to build a team worthy of being their rival. Huge amounts of sums were spent on ready made superstars. Waiting for youth players to develop was not the game plan.

It is also worth noting that Chelsea, Inter, and Madrid have all struggled to integrate quality talent into their first team prior to and post Mourinho leading the respective clubs. While Kevin De Brunye and Romelu Lukaku are two big black eyes on Jose’s youth record, all managers miss out on young talents for various reasons. Sir Alex famously alienated Paul Pogba by playing Rafael — a full back — in midfield, rather than give the yute a game, while simultaneously bringing Scholsey back from retirement and sticking by Tom Cleverly and his backwards passing for years. The Premier League is littered with United academy rejects, including current Premier League champions Leicester City, however Fergie is famous for giving youth a chance.

As United revamp and modernize their academy, it is important to understand that Jose will be given every tool at his disposal to return Manchester United to their lofty traditional heights. With Manchester City becoming less of a noisy neighbor and more of a gentrifying force in Manchester, Ed Woodward, the Glazers, and the Red Devils have finally realized that the perch United currently sit on is precarious. A few more seasons of ineptitude and mediocrity can send us on a downward spiral a la Liverpool in the 1990’s. Mourinho himself has lots to prove after his Madrid meltdown and his Chelsea tenure’s cancerous end. With Jose firmly entrenched at United and a great cast of foreign and academy-born youth at his disposal, Mourinho is in the perfect scenario to cement both his and the Red Devils legacy going forward.