After what can be seen as a difficult two years for Louis van Gaal at what many would describe as the toughest job in the world, i.e. managing Manchester United, he was able to end it with a bit of glory, the club’s first FA Cup trophy in over a decade. However, it simply was not enough to save his job. He and his team fell below the minimum requirements set by his employers. Jose Mourinho, as he had been rumoured for months, was set to take on the hot seat at Old Trafford and while his third season at Chelsea was met with abysmal performances and results, Mourinho still remains one of the leaders in this generation of coaching. The Manchester United job was described by himself as his dream job and it is unlikely the same mistakes he made at Chelsea will be repeated.
While it is expected for Jose to significantly improve on multiple aspects of what LvG had left behind, one department where van Gaal shone was in one of Mourinho’s highlighted weaknesses and it is his ability to nurture young talents. Over the years, spanning decades, United has been known to maintain an elite level squad and youth policy, and under Sir Alex Ferguson, that was almost a staple and the backbone for his United squads. The players within the club must understand the ethos of Manchester United and what it meant to wear the shirt. These were the players that were given chances and while in some cases the skill level of a player may have been in question, there was always a standard approach and it never once caused Sir Alex to deviate from this structure.
Under van Gaal, the club seemingly returned to the structure of bringing through youth. While in some cases injuries forced van Gaal’s hand, he was never hesitant in placing faith in the youth players and it had provided him with more positive outcomes than otherwise. Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, James Wilson, Tyler Blackett, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and a few other youth players, who have either started from United at very early stages in their careers or were transferred from other academies, have found themselves being utilised by Louis van Gaal over the last two years. As stated before, the unfortunate scenarios, such as injury and even simply bad form, have forced van Gaal’s hand to use the academy but the type of confidence exhibited by these young players and the level of faith the manager had place in them is indicative of not only the type of manager LvG is but how well he works with them and how well he fitted that particular aspect of the ethos of the club. If he was given time to oversee the complete transition of his youth players, United could be looking at a class of 2016 with the necessary drive and dedication the club yearns.
Despite this being a possibility, LvG’s failures at the club could not be overlooked and in waiting was Jose Mourinho, a manager who is considered as one of the absolute best at delivering short term objectives. Manchester United is need of major silverware and Mourinho fits the bill. However, Mourinho has shortcomings and his usual approach to the long term building of squads and sustainability are his highlighted weaknesses. Jose has never been shy about his admiration of Sir Alex and the managerial role at Manchester United, but history shows he won’t be able to tick all the necessary boxes, especially as it regards to building a squad with the involvement of youth and the utilisation of youth players.
At Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, he was able to inspire professionals in their prime to perform beyond their best. Despite that, academy players didn’t feature much in his plans as manager; albeit these clubs genuinely had required immediate success and not a self-sufficient club structure. Mourinho’s last stint at Chelsea saw over thirty players loaned out by the club and what could be perceived as a mistrust in youth, young Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore hardly featured in his selections. Now that he is confirmed as United’s manager, how does Mourinho move forward? Manchester United, much like Chelsea, has one of the top youth academies in the world and an u-21 team filled with quality youth players, many of which were promoted to the first team by the previous manager. With the prestige and the demanding nature of the job that he is stepping into and Mourinho, famous for being a stubborn manager, will be expected to adjust to the ethos of the club and should certainly be looking to build beyond a stop gap approach, that is the winning of a couple major trophies and then moving on leaving United with a team in decline.
There is no reason for Jose to utilise as many of the young players that van Gaal did, nor should anyone be requesting that he does. However, if Mourinho’s objective at his ‘dream job’ is to build a legacy, it will take more than just a revolving door of players. While not being completely caught out by the magnitude of the job he will have before him, Jose must ensure that he gets the foundation right; and over the decades at United, that has included academy and local players. He must also be careful in the nurturing of some of these talents. He must ensure they fully understand what representing United means and as seen in the past, their passion and love for the club will play a significant role in not just building his legacy but also helping to put United back at the summit of English club football where they belong.