Youth is all the rage in the red half of Manchester these days, as Louis van Gaal has given six former academy players a go in the first time since February alone. Results have been much steadier since the infusion of youthful exuberance to the lineup and Manchester United are pushing alongside West Ham for a top four finish in the English Premier League.
Manchester United’s recent youth movement and the reasons behind it can be debated, with many believing Van Gaal isn’t exactly a genius for his recent transformation. Rather, injuries and little to lose for a lame duck manager gave him the impetuous to make the move.
But, Van Gaal isn’t long for the job and with Jose Mourinho waiting to take over in the wings the signal is clear — this club wants to win titles and win titles now.
Going with a youth movement and being patient with a growing and learning lineup isn’t exactly a hallmark of Mourinho as a manager or Manchester United’s desperation to become a major player in the EPL and across Europe once again.
But, there may be a bit of a false narrative happening in regards to the recent additions of young players to the Red Devils’ lineups. Just as quickly as youth was inserted against Watford, it was taken away against West Brom. A full eight of the 11 players were 25 or older, and only Rashford (18), Martial (20) and Depay (22) were featured in Van Gaal’s lineup.
As soon as more experienced options were available, Van Gaal chose to switch back rather than continue down the path of a youth movement afoot.
Does anyone really believe Mourinho wouldn’t be doing the same next season?
Despite all of Mourinho’s history and Manchester United’s crazy spending on the transfer market, the current youth movement may have little choice but to move forward no matter who the manager is though.
Here’s a harsh reality — Wayne Rooney isn’t getting any younger, turning 31 in October and having next season be his 15th EPL campaign of his career.
Even the players that have recently been bought are on the younger side of things. Anthony Martial is just 20 years old, Memphis Depay is 22 and Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin are just 26 years old.
Sure, there was also the transfer in of 31-year-old midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, but that was an anomaly compared to the other moves made.
Depay, Martial and Schneiderlin figure to be a fixture in this squad going forward and in some cases are the backbone of this club for now and in to the future. In the cases of Depay and Martial, they are exactly the types of individual talents that Mourinho has a habit of getting the most out of.
Turning his back on those kinds of talents to buy 28-year-old stars with maybe a year or two of quality football in them would not only stunt the growth of the younger players, it would set this club back financially and in forming what is needed to return to the glory days — a core that stays together.
There further clues that Manchester United are going to have to stay with the youth movement going forward. Chief amongst them is the fact that four of the more youthful members of this squad are established in the starting XI —Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Paddy McNair and Andreas Pereira.
Add in the recently forced in Marcus Rashford, and the Red Devils seemingly have a ready-made group for a manager to work with.
Ultimately, the question seems to be more of how Mourinho rates the youngsters on the roster. If he sees this group as special and capable of taking a title quickly, he’ll stick with this group. If not, don’t be surprised to see this squad be buoyed by the transfers in of more established stars as to be able to sprinkle in the youth instead of throwing them in the deep end.
Given Mourinho’s history, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him turn to more established players and make the younger players re-earn their positions in the squad. But, this isn’t the normal situation, and Mourinho has plenty of time to scout and get to know the youngsters at Manchester United.
Mourinho will know exactly what he will be getting in each of his players — and that will be the ultimate deciding factor in sticking with or turning away from the youth movement afoot at Old Trafford.