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What is Jose Mourinho’s “youth policy” at Manchester United?

Since taking the manager’s job at Old Trafford Jose Mourinho has overseen the winning of the Community Shield and two wins out of two games in the Premier League. Players who have been conspicuous by their absence include a few of the younger members, who had some game time last season because Louis van Gaal had a lot of injuries and no experienced cover.

When, for example, Luke Shaw was injured in the Champion’s League, there was no ready made experienced replacement. Wayne Rooney’s continued decline meant that Anthony Martial was given many more games than he would have been had there been an older player waiting for his chance.

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Tyler Blackett had been tried in the team, along with Paddy McNair, Donald Love, Adnan Januzaj, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, James Wilson, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Andreas Pereira, Will Keane and Marcus Rashford. All, I hasten to add, because van Gaal carelessly left himself without cover in case of injuries, not because he suddenly decided to give all the youth players a chance in the first team.

So where are they now? Tyler Blackett has been sold to Reading, Paddy McNair and Donald Love have gone to Sunderland along with Adnan Januzaj, although the latter is on loan there. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has gone on loan to Wolves and James Wilson is now at Derby County on loan. Only Fosu-Mensah, who wasn’t a product of United’s youth team anyway, and Marcus Rashford remain at the club for sure, as it seems likely that Pereira and Keane will be loaned out or sold quite soon.

So what of the youth policy? Well, when you are brought in to manage Manchester United, particularly after two abject failures like David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, it is not going to be youth alone that will restore the club to it’s former glories.

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Mourinho doesn’t have time to try out different youngsters to see whether or not they are good enough for United. He needs short term success in order to keep his job. He will achieve short term success by doing exactly what he is doing. He has brought in youth and experience, but has made sure that they are already good enough for Manchester United. The balance is just about right although I tend to agree that he needs an experienced centre back so that Smalling can take his rightful place on the bench alongside Rooney.

This doesn’t mean that the younger players won’t get a chance, in fact Fosu-Mensah and Rashford are virtually guaranteed some game time due to the fixture congestion beginning in September.

It should also be remembered that the team currently includes two products of the youth set-up. Jesse Lingard still has detractors and may not be a long term solution in his position. Paul Pogba is arguably the best midfielder in world football and it is hardly his fault that he was released by United then bought back for a world record fee!

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Nobody at Old Trafford, as far as I know, is complaining about Mourinho’s methods yet and, if and when he wins the Premier League he will have converted many doubters over the course of the season as well.

Once this has happened he can start to filter in one or two of the youngsters. He will have bought himself a very precious commodity, time. Once you are a winner at United the fans suddenly have patience with everything you do.

Sir Alex Ferguson got away with many 1-0 wins in games which were hardly enthralling because he won the league. He only won the Champion’s League twice, an achievement which even he agrees should have been celebrated more often. This shortcoming was overlooked by the fans because United were serial winners in their domestic league.

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It should also be remembered that, when the “Class of 92” were being brought through, they were mixed in with the likes of Keane, Cantona, Irwin and Schmeichel. It wasn’t a case of just replacing the first team with the youth team as some people seem to think.

Mourinho’s team currently consists of six players who are 25 years of age or less and a bench which usually includes Depay, Fosu-Mensah and Rashford, making another three. So, out of a matchday squad of sixteen, ten and sometimes more are “youngsters”. Jose Mourinho, in this context, is giving youth a chance as much as he dare.

He has obviously weighed up the risk/reward element and, in my opinion, has struck a good balance between youth and experience. Whether this is good enough to lift the trophy at the end of the season we can only wait and see.

The original article can be found on the excellent Why Say Anything?

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