When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Manchester United last summer the fan base was split over the decision. Some loved the move as Mourinho seems to win wherever he goes, while others were skeptical since he seems to leave a trail of fire when he leaves. There was also another issue that had all the fans worried. Mourinho has a track record of not giving youth any chances in the first team, whereas Manchester United are a club that prides itself on its youth development.
This worry offended Mourinho, who famously showed up to one of his early press conferences with a list of the 49 players whom he had given a first team debut to during his career.
At the time, what fans were most afraid of was Mourinho neglecting to play rising teenage star Marcus Rashford. Those fears have been eased as Mourinho has proven to be willing to give the youngster his fair share of chances. The fact that most of those chances have come out wide has less to do with Mourinho than with the fact that 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic has made himself undroppable.
Mourinho can boast about the 49 players he’s previously given debuts too (though it should be noted, most never got fair chances or have amounted to nothing) there is one number that matters more than anything this year; zero. That’s the amount of players Mourinho has given a first team debut to this year, which is a problem if you’re the manager of Manchester United.
While Mourinho’s predecessor at United, Louis van Gaal, certainly took his fair share of criticism, one thing he could not be accused of was not giving youth a chance. in Van Gaal’s first game in charge he handed debuts to two players, Jesse Lingard and Tyler Blackett, the former is one of the players Mourinho regularly relies on.
Mourinho has recently went on to say that no academy players were ready for their debut this year. He even went as far as to point out that last year the team had Rashford and Tim Fosu-Mensah ready to break through, but this year there was no one on that level.
That statement itself was asinine for two reasons. The first of which is obvious, no one actually knows when a player is ready for the first team. When Van Gaal took over, academy graduate James Wilson was deemed ‘ready’ to break into United’s first team. Van Gaal gave him chance after chance and he never showed anything. These days he’s wallowing away in the Championship.
Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford, the player Mourinho cited in his argument, was never deemed ‘ready’ by Louis van Gaal. He was given his debut only because of injuries to Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Will Keane. Had any of them been fit to face FC Mitdjylland in the Europa League, Rashford wouldn’t be with the first team today. The same can be said of Timothy Fosu-Mensah and his debut days later against Arsenal.
The other reason of course is that if Mourinho has any hopes for his future at United, he needs to start developing the next generation of talent now. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Michael Carrick are both 35 years old. Wayne Rooney is an old 31, as is Antonio Valencia. At 27, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is no spring chicken.
If Mourinho is still around three years from now, does he expect to count on these players? If he can’t, and he won’t be able to, what will his plan be? Spend another £200 million in the transfer market? That doesn’t seem all that probable especially considering that United haven’t sold any of the dead weight that clogs up their wage bill, and likely won’t over the next few years.
This is why it’s imperative that Mourinho at least give a look as to what United have in their academy. Admittedly, that’s not as easy these days as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had chances.
In all his games in charge of United, Mourinho has included just one player who had yet to make his first team debut even on the bench for a match. That was goalkeeper Joel Pereira, who was never going to see the field, in their recent FA Cup match against Reading.
In that FA Cup match, Mourinho opted to name Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two players who were never going to play, to the bench instead of possibly two academy players who could have come on once that game got out of hand.
To make matters even worse, Mourinho started Ashley Young at left back for reasons that no one can explain. Jose will claim it’s to give him a match, but what exactly is he giving Young matches for? Young has started exactly four games this year, which is fewer than the amount of players United have used at left back this season. If Young was part of Mourinho’s plans, he’d find a way to get him on the field. But I guess in Mourinho’s mind that’s better than giving an academy player a chance?
Therein lies the problem with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. Fans might be gushing over the team’s 16 game unbeaten run right now. But just because the team is playing well right now doesn’t mean that all the reasons to be skeptical of Mourinho don’t still exist. If this team doesn’t get any younger soon, in three years it will be just as much of a dumpster fire as all of Jose’s previous teams.