Published On: Sun, Aug 28th, 2016

Manchester United's future: The Mourinho effect

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When Marcus Rashford fired home the late winner Saturday against Hull City, he became the first teenager to score a Premier League goal under Jose Mourinho.

The first teenager, EVER.

A startling statistic considering Mourinho’s two spells as Chelsea gaffer saw the mercurial Portuguese manager at the helm for 215 league matches, though it should come as less of a surprise with a cursory glance of the Blues’ loan policies.

Last season, under Mourinho, Chelsea had 34 players on loan, many of whom like Nathan Chalobah and Charly Musonda; players that were thought to have promising futures at Stamford Bridge only to get lost in the shuffle of temporary moves.

While Mourinho was shipping out the kids last season, his predecessor at United was doing the opposite.

Van Gaal’s ventures

Deservedly chased out of town after a relatively dismal second season, Louis van Gaal’s ambitions didn’t match the displays on the pitch, though the Dutchman’s influence could have left a lasting impression.

When Timothy Fosu-Mensah and James Weir were handed their first-team debuts in February, they became the 13th and 14th academy products to be handed a senior introduction by Van Gaal.

For context, a rash of injuries forced Van Gaal’s hand. Like Fosu-Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was a teenager who got his chance to shine because of a slew of injuries to full-backs. Luke Shaw had a broken leg, and Marcos Rojo had a host of ailments that paired well with his footballing ineptitude.

Here’s a look at the 14 academy kids who got their debuts under Van Gaal, and where they are now:

Player Position Current club
Jesse Lingard FW United
Tyler Blackett DF Reading
Saidy Janko DF Celtic
Reece James DF Wigan
Andreas Pereira MF Granada (loan)
Paddy McNair DF Sunderland
Tom Thorpe DF Rotherham
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson DF Wolves (loan)
Donald Love DF Sunderland
Joe Riley DF/MF United
Marcus Rashford FW United
Regan Poole DF United
Tim Fosu-Mensah DF United
James Weir MF United

When Van Gaal gave Fosu-Mensah and Weir their chance in March, the now unemployed gaffer offered that it could mark the beginning of a change in United’s transfer policies. If only he knew how wrong he was.

The current state

When Paul McGuinness stepped down as United youth-team coach last December, it was during a period of sweeping changes in the academy system.

McGuinness was responsible for the development of a massive number of players, not the least of which was Paul Pogba.

“To have seen 86 academy players develop to make their debut for the first team and 23 to become full internationals has been thoroughly rewarding. I now have other ambitions I would like to fulfill in football,” McGuinness said after quitting his post.

McGuinness’ departure was preceded by that of academy head and fellow former United player Brian McClair, who left a once-stellar youth set-up to take the top job with the Scottish Football Association. In July, United’s Head of Recruitment, Derek Langley, left the club after 16 years.

During an eight-month stretch when the club was without an academy boss, Red Devils legend Paul Scholes offered some candid thoughts comparing the two Manchester sides in an op-ed in The Independent.

“It has been no secret among people I know in football that City have taken great strides in their youth academy programmes, to the extent that there are even United players past and present who have, or at least once had, sons at City’s academy.”

The ginger-topped midfield lynchpin isn’t wrong, just ask United greats Phil Neville, Robin van Persie, and Darren Fletcher, all of whom have had their kids in the City academy.

Scholes continued, lamenting the decline of United’s academy, saying, “Trying to look at it from a neutral perspective, I have to say that what City have achieved is impressive and their impact on the youth scene in Manchester began long before the opening of their City Football Academy.”

Twenty years ago, Manchester City was languishing in the second tier.

A 14th-place finish was coupled with defeats to sides like Oxford United and Tranmere Rovers. That same year, United won the Premier League by a seven-point margin. Among the star-studded squad were names like Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, Butt, and the Neville brothers, all of whom progressed from United’s youth program.

Should it matter?

In 2006’s ‘Children of Men’, Clive Owen’s Theo Faron is a civil servant tasked with keeping a pregnant refugee safe from the chaos of a fractured world that hasn’t witnessed the birth of a child in 18 years. The archetypal “everyman”, Faron protects the refugee, Kee, until she gives birth, only for the film to fade to black as Owen’s character loses consciousness from a gunshot wound.

Theo Faron is the anti-Mourinho, a protagonist with one eye on the future in disdain for the present, though football is not a fictional post-apocalyptic spectacle.

Football managers are judged not on what is forthcoming, but on the contemporary.

Should players the likes of Fosu-Mensah, Blackett, and Borthwick-Jackson make a first team that has realistic title ambitions, or is that the make-up of a mid-table side in flux like an Everton or a Southampton?

For every Marcus Rashford or Jesse Lingard, there are a hundred Saidy Jankos.

In terms of the current state of affairs, Nicky Butt has been promoted to the academy’s Head of Coaching and Henny de Regt, an 18-year vet of Ajax‘s famed youth set-up, has been lured away from Amsterdam to take the chief scouting gig at United. Doubt Mourinho cares, and it’s hard to blame him for his aloofness.

The two-time Champions League winner was brought to Old Trafford not to develop the future, but to erase the mnemonics of the fleeting Van Gaal era.

Faced with a tattered squad lacking in creativity and blessed with a seemingly endless amount of financial muscle, Mourinho brought in Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Red Devils academy grad Paul Pogba.

When May rolls around, if Mourinho and Co. lift Manchester United’s record 21st top-flight title, and first since 2012-13, few will doubt the state of the academy and its bearing on the future.

Mourinho, who has never held a managerial appointment longer than three years, will be long gone by then, and a new high-profile manager will be in place, tethered to Ed Woodward’s pocketbook rife with blank cheques.

A year ago, only those with intimate knowledge of United’s youth set-up paid any mind to the name Marcus Rashford.

A year later, the 18-year-old has three England caps and eight top-tier goals, a record that formerly belonged to George Best and a stunning brace against Arsenal that effectively shattered the Gunners’ title hopes.

For all the blockbuster summer moves, an academy product who joined the club as a seven-year-old saved Mourinho’s hide Saturday at the KC Stadium with the Fergie Time match-winner against Hull City.

The children may be the future, but Mourinho cares only for the present, and to his credit, he wasn’t brought to Old Trafford to play babysitter.

He was hired to win the league, and while the future may not be bright, Mourinho will be long gone by then.

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