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Monday 11 December 2017

Richard Sadlier: Mourinho's record with young players means nothing in the long run

Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's record with young players means nothing in the long run. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's record with young players means nothing in the long run. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Shortly before my 18th birthday I was told the first team manager wanted to see me in his office. I had only played for the youth team up to that point but he had a promotion of sorts to offer me. He said he wanted me to be a part of his match-day squad for the game the following day.

I wouldn't be named on the bench and wouldn't be involved in the match itself but he said he thought the experience would be good for me. He said I would get a feel for what it would be like to be a proper footballer.

I was excited initially, but then realised it would mean I would miss our own game against Arsenal that morning and I didn't want that. I explained what I was thinking and the manager just started to smile, pleased I had chosen to play a match rather than sit and watch one. It was a test, apparently, and thankfully I passed.

The development of youth footballers is achieved in many ways. Listening to some people, though, you would think the only measure of a manager's engagement in this area is the number of young players he selects in his first team.

Count the number of debuts he handed out during his reign and you've got your answer. Track the progress they make, solely in terms of appearance, and you'll get a proper idea of his levels of trust in young players. Talk is cheap in this area, it's all about numbers.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (C) and assistant manager Ryan Giggs Reuters / Eddie Keogh

It would appear that nobody really knows whether Jose Mourinho will be the next Manchester United manager. In the past week alone, media reports in both Spain and Italy have said it's definitely not going to happen. Sources in England have said the opposite, while others have said Ryan Giggs has already been lined up for the job. Some say an FA Cup win and Champions League qualification would save Louis van Gaal, but there are some reporting he'll be replaced no matter what. And almost every story comes with a claim of being an exclusive.

There are many reasons why United might be hesitant about appointing Mourinho. He is volatile, arrogant and ruthless, and sometimes he seems like he acts solely in his own best interests. The obvious response is to point to the traits we associate with Alex Ferguson.

But it's his record of selecting young players that is said to be a concern. It's a perception that Mourinho himself believes is not supported by facts. However, it's repeatedly cited by those who say he wouldn't fit in at Old Trafford. They say his reluctance to embrace academy graduates shows he doesn't belong at Manchester United.

His allies point to the 20 academy players he gave debuts to at Real Madrid. There were more than a dozen in his two spells at Chelsea. Seventeen-year-old David Santone was in his team at Inter Milan. Raphael Varane was his centre-half at the Bernabeu at the age of 18. While in charge at Porto, 19-year-old Carlos Alberto became the second youngest footballer to score in a Champions League final. The idea he is reluctant to promote youth talent is simply a myth.

His critics, who would hardly wish to be described as supporters of Van Gaal, point to the 14 debuts the Dutchman has given to academy youngsters at United in just two seasons. They'll cite the class of '92 or the umpteen others who came through the ranks over the years. Promoting youth players is part of the club's DNA. If Mourinho does give debuts to youngsters, they don't stay in his team for very long. You choose between Mourinho or this policy of youth development, but you can't have both.

The most relevant point here is that Mourinho has created a climate of high achievement and success at every club he has managed. He has consistently got the best out of the players he has worked with. There are notable exceptions, obviously, but players generally flourish under him. Some were established before he arrived, some were bought from elsewhere, others were promoted from the academy. It's wrong to assess his engagement with youngsters solely on the basis of the numbers he picks or how long they remain in his team.

Think how much a young player would learn from having him there in the first place.

In any case, if selecting academy players was that important, Van Gaal would be going nowhere. But it's not. It shouldn't be even close to being United's main concern in choosing his successor. Champions League qualification is an end-of-season target and the FA Cup has become a competition of importance.

There are reasons to consider not appointing Jose Mourinho. Claiming his record in this area is the main one is utter nonsense.

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