While Jose Mourinho may protest to the contrary, showing up to press conferences with pieces of paper listing all the young players he has given debuts to, his record with youth promotion isn’t great.
Given that he never spends longer than three seasons at a club and is expected to deliver immediate success, we probably shouldn’t be too surprised. If he plays a teenager week in week out, to the detriment of his team’s results, there is no benefit to him, as he is unlikely to still be at the club to reap the rewards when that player blossoms in their 20’s.
That is why Sir Alex Ferguson could boast such a fantastic record with youth. When he was appointed as Manchester United manager, he made it his priority to sort out the academy.
When the success started coming in the early 1990’s and Ferguson knew the job was his for as long as he wanted, it made sense for him to look to the future.
Still, for all the criticism of Mourinho in the past, his record at United has been OK. He certainly could do better and last season there were occasions when fans were frustrated that the manager didn’t give opportunities to the younger players. Axel Tuanzebe should have had more playing time but maybe Mourinho is keen to acclimatise new signing Victor Lindelof as quickly as possible.
Mourinho goes in to every competition with the aim of winning it.
While Ferguson would use the League Cup to give the academy players a go, Mourinho plays a strong team because he wants to lift it in February, and that’s exactly what happened. He’s won it four times in six full seasons in the Premier League.
Still, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay, Angel Gomes, Joel Pereira and Josh Harrop made over 20 appearances between them last season. It could and should have been more, certainly, but their inclusion suggests he doesn’t have a total aversion to playing academy players.
Marcus Rashford, as a teenager and a long way from being the finished product, made more appearances than any other player in the squad last season. It was Louis van Gaal who gave him his debut, when injuries to every other first team striker forced his hand, but Mourinho still trusted the inexperienced Rashford in all competitions.
However, as Mourinho is the man everyone loves to hate, it’s easy to overlook any achievements he has with youth. This season, McTominay has featured in almost a quarter of United’s games and has been praised by the manager for the way he has performed.
Yet Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s father is not impressed with Mourinho and has launched a bizarre attack on him, blaming the manager for the lack of playing time his son has had at Chelsea.
💬 JOSE HELD HIM BACK 💬
"If he [Loftus-Cheek] was playing for Mauricio Pochettino, he'd have 70, 80, 90 first team appearances by now."
— Sky Sports PL 👑 (@SkySportsPL) November 13, 2017
“Jose Mourinho held him back,” he claimed. “He should have been playing. Everyone behind the scenes was asking: ‘why isn’t he playing?’ If Ruben was playing for Mauricio Pochettino, he’d have 70, 80, 90 first team appearances by now.”
Mourinho was the man to give Loftus-Cheek his debut in December 2014. In nine months of available playing time, excluding the summer, before Mourinho was sacked, he gave Loftus-Cheek nine appearances.
For an 18-year-old, that’s not too shabby. Maybe he could have played him in more games but when he was fighting for his job for half of that time, with the dressing room turning on him, maybe he decided throwing an inexperienced player in to the mix wasn’t the right thing to do, for both Loftus-Cheek and the club.
Guus Hiddink replaced Mourinho in December and played the teenager a further 11 times, with eight of those appearances from the bench.
The following season, with Antonio Conte in charge, Loftus-Cheek played in 11 games all season. Five of those appearances were in domestic cup games, with him playing 90 minutes just once. In the remaining six appearances, all in the Premier League, he played a total of 31 minutes.
Worth noting Mourinho gave 18-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek 197 minutes of PL football over nine months, after giving him his debut. Conte gave 21-year-old Loftus-Cheek 31 minutes of PL football over the same period of time, before sending him off on loan.
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) November 14, 2017
When you consider that as a teenager, Loftus-Cheek got 200 minutes in the league for Mourinho, over six times the amount given by Conte, it’s confusing as to why the finger is being pointed at their former manager.
Mourinho may well be criticised for not playing Loftus-Cheek more when he was younger, although it’s a struggle to think of any Premier League manager at top club who throws 18-year-olds from the academy in to the first team on a regular basis.
The arguments from some Chelsea supporters on social media that Mourinho had Loftus-Cheek for five years are fairly ludicrous. He should have been playing him in the first team when he was 13? 14? To get a debut at 18 is decent.
Ferguson didn’t give David Beckham a go in league until he was a month away from his 20th birthday. Paul Scholes was two months away from his when he made his league debut.
In more recent times, Danny Welbeck was 18 when he first played for United, but only played a further two times in the league. Jesse Lingard was 20 when Ferguson retired and had to wait another two years before he played for the first team.
Of course, we can’t argue that Mourinho has a good record with youth. He doesn’t. But he can’t be held accountable for Loftus-Cheek’s failure to hold down a place in Chelsea’s first team, when their current manager hasn’t shown the slightest bit of interest in him.
Ferguson managed Paul Pogba badly and didn’t give him enough playing time. Juventus were more than happy to take the 19-year-old off United’s hands and threw him in to the first team, where he thrived.
Even if you were to suggest that Mourinho could have done more for Loftus-Cheek, nothing was stopping Conte from continuing to give him increased playing time, as Hiddink had done, but he didn’t.
Only Ronald Koeman at Everton gave more playing time to teenagers last season than Jose Mourinho did at United.
While Rashford accounts for a large chunk of that, it contradicts the argument that Mourinho doesn’t trust young players. In contrast, Conte didn’t play any teenagers in the league all season. Not even for one single minute. Nothing.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for Loftus-Cheek’s lack of appearances for Chelsea, maybe take a look at the manager who has just sent him away from the club for a season and has given no time to the youngsters since his appointment, instead of the manager who left two years ago.