Jose Mourinho has enjoyed a reasonably strong start to his Manchester United managerial career. With an EFL Cup already in the bag, the Man United are pushing for further success both domestically and in Europe in the closing weeks of the season.
Some fans, however, have accused the manager of failing to live up the club’s much-heralded tradition of giving young players a chance. Is that fair?
A club built on youth
Whether it’s the Busby Babes of the 1950s or the Class of 92, United’s stellar reputation is built on homegrown talent. Even under the relatively joyless stewardship of Louis van Gaal, academy players were always given a chance with the likes of Jesse Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and, most notably, Marcus Rashford all enjoying prolonged spells in the starting XI towards the end of the 2015/16 season.
Rashford and Lingard, with 45 and 34 appearances this campaign respectively, have helped keep up United’s proud record of having a youth team graduate in every match day squad since 1937. Unfortunately, Fosu-Mensah’s game time has dwindled significantly, while others who made debuts under van Gaal including James Wilson, Donald Love, Paddy McNair and Andreas Pereira, have either been sold on or sent out to other clubs on loan.
Unwilling to trust the younger players?
The above, added to the Portuguese’s fallings out with imported youngsters Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial over drops in form, has led commentators, including 888sport, to question Mourinho’s management style. They suggest that, unlike Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino or Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Mourinho is unwilling to place trust in ‘fringe’ players outside his regular group of 15 or 16 players who play week in, week out. This habit backfired spectacularly at Chelsea, when a tired title-winning squad flirted with relegation before the manager was unceremoniously sacked in December.
The sales of the unfancied Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin in the January transfer window emphasises the ease with which Mourinho discards players he does not see eye to eye with. Could that cost United dearly when the squad is severely tested during the closing weeks of the season?
What does the future hold?
While Spurs – with their squad built around young talents such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier – challenge for the title, United must fight for their lives just to qualify for next season’s Champions League. The squad contains the exceptionally talented Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but other than those two, are too many players either too old or not quite good enough to help mount a title challenge in 2017/18?
If Mourinho can learn to tolerate the occasional hiccup from Rashford, Lingard, Martial and Shaw, while gradually introducing more youngsters in the mix, he could help improve their game and build the next great United squad, worthy of winning titles both at home and abroad.