Why youth will thrive under Jose Mourinho – as seen from his previous clubs

Following the appointment of Jose Mourinho as Manchester United manager, there have been many questions asked about how Mourinho’s perceived style of management would fit with the ideals of the club. With issues such as his “negative” football, his media antics, and his tendency to stay at clubs for short periods of time all being questioned, one problem stands head and shoulders above the rest: Will he uphold United’s tradition of bringing through youth?

United have an incredible record of bringing through youth players, with every United matchday squad since 1937 having included a player from the youth academy. The fear is that Mourinho will not simply stop this incredible run, but also hinder the players’ development. However, by looking deeper into Mourinho’s career, there is more than enough reason not to look into the future of United’s young talent with fear, but with optimism.

At Porto, he developed players like Ricardo Carvalho and Deco, but there is an argument to be made that he had no choice, so let’s skip straight to his first major appointment: Chelsea. Under the ownership of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Mourinho’s main goal at Chelsea was to bring as much success as possible, with youth development taking a back seat. Even so, Mourinho still took the opportunity to give six academy players their first team debuts.

But this is not the main takeaway from his spell at Chelsea. There, he oversaw some very large transfers, including those of 22-year-old Petr Cech and 20-year-old Arjen Robben. From these admittedly expensive young talents, Mourinho carved out world-beating footballers, and the way he managed expectations of these players to create players still admired today will help players already in the United squad, players like Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay. Talented players of similar age, both carrying big price tags.

But they’re not exactly academy products, are they? No, but this is where his spell at Inter Milan comes in. His Inter team was one famous for winning with experience, with players like Walter Samuel, Lucio, Javier Zanetti and Dejan Stankovic forming an integral part of the squad. With a team like this, there isn’t much opportunity for young players, but his time managing Inter shows his commitment to developing talented youth players. In his first season, Mourinho gave 18-year-old Davide Santon his debut and promoted him permanently into the first team, playing him 16 times in the league. Santon was so impressive under Mourinho that he was being compared to legendary defender Paolo Maldini. Santon stayed at Inter despite stuttering in Mourinho’s last season until he was loaned out to Cesena as part of a deal to sign Yuto Nagatomo. This didn’t seem great, but compare this to the treatment Santon received from Mourinho’s replacement Rafa Benitez. After Mourinho left and Santon’s loan ended, Benitez immediately sold him to Newcastle United.

At Inter, Mourinho also made another 18-year-old a part of his first team: the infamous Mario Balotelli. Balotelli was made an important part of Mourinho’s team, as he went on to play over 70 first team matches in two years, before leaving for Manchester City, where his time there ended up with a physical altercation with manager Roberto Mancini. This is all despite the frustrating nature of the player, his off-field antics, and his hot-headedness. Mourinho saw the talent in these two players and stuck by them when other managers wouldn’t. Currently, United have two talented 18-year-olds at the squad of similar position and experience to the two at Inter, a defensive player in Timothy Fosu-Mensah and an attacker in Marcus Rashford. While neither have shown the problems the Inter duo have, it won’t be plain sailing for either of them in the future, and as Mourinho has shown at Inter, he is the man to guide them.

There isn’t much to tell specifically about his return to Chelsea, but his spell at Real Madrid is a fascinating time and one that shows just how much Mourinho cares about youth development. Mourinho gave debuts to numerous youth players and gave the likes of Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez a step up to the first team, as well as signing teenager Raphael Varane and turning him into a rock in defence, but one story, in particular, is eye-catching. Mourinho didn’t exactly make too many friends at Madrid, and one person he fell out with was the then manager of Castilla, Madrid’s B team, Alberto Toril. In October 2012, Mourinho said the following in a press conference, as reported by Marca:

“Toril has to decide whether it’s more important [to him] to finish seventh or eighth or to help the first team. He has his autonomy but we use a different system and a different model. They play in different positions at Castilla. There is limited common ground in terms of the style of play, and the kids are the ones who end up paying the price.”

Mourinho wanted the reserves team to play in a similar style to the first team, to make the transition easier. A similar approach was used by Mourinho’s predecessor at United, Louis van Gaal. As soon as van Gaal arrived at United, the U21 team started playing in the same system as the first team, per van Gaal’s instruction. Clearly, the approach worked, as van Gaal oversaw the promotion of many youth players in his final season. When Mourinho starts work at United, it’s not unlikely that he will use the same approach at the club, meaning that transition from the reserves to the first team would be as smooth as before.

Throughout Mourinho’s career, it can now be seen that he has been one to promote the development of youth players, and integrating them into the first team. He has shown in three of his biggest managerial posts that he has developed players in similar situations to current United players. The difference is, he is now at a club in which developing youth players is part of its very fabric, and essential part of its history and culture. With a club that prioritises this, Mourinho will have full support to bleed youngsters, and develop them to the best of his, and their, abilities.

Written by Adimurti Pramana


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