How Jose Mourinho’s rejects became Premier League and European kings
Regarding players, Jose Mourinho has had an abundance of riches during his time. The Portuguese manager has coached many legends of the round leather game. The list includes Benni McCarthy, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Sergio Ramos, and Cristiano Ronaldo. But one key to Mourinho's success has been his tendency to favour established players. He is rarely a manager to introduce young talent into the first team
Such was the fate of youngsters Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah in Chelsea. The two talents were among the many the Portuguese manager considered not good enough to make his first XI. He had no time for them despite the fact these players were recruited as a result of their excellence for Genk and Basel respectively. Salah, in particular, had shone brightly for the Swiss side, helping them to the league title in his very first season at the club.
It was the Egyptian’s heroics in the Champions League against Chelsea that facilitated his signing. He scored in both the home and away tie to dump the English team out of the competition. Unfortunately for him, Jose Mourinho was the man in charge of the Blues. In what seemed like determination not to keep the player, he sent him on loan to Italian club Fiorentina with an option to buy.
After a fruitful season with the club, Salah rejected a move to make the deal permanent. He instead opted to join Roma. Another two excellent seasons with the Rome-based club convinced Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp this was the next big thing.
Kevin De Bruyne’ path was not as glorious, but he had shown enough in the blue jersey to convince a manager with an eye for the future. That was not Mourinho. The Belgian decided to move to the Bundesliga.
Two seasons in the German top flight, first with Werder Bremen and then with Wolfsburg earned him best player accolades. Manchester City came calling.
De Bruyne and Salah have taken the Premier League by storm. They were neck and neck in the race for the Player of the Year award, this season. Meanwhile, Mourinho has moved on to Manchester United and made marquee signings to bolster his squad.
But rather than achieve such success, the season has been one of blame games and criticism of players for lacking personality and class. Paul Pogba was on top of the world in Juventus. Then he became Mourinho’s player. Alexis Sanchez was the best player in Arsenal by far. Then he moved to Man United. He had been a shadow of himself until the last few matches when he and Pogba combined to great effect.
Before you credit Mourinho for their breakthrough, consider that Marcus Rashford’s growth has been stunted under the Portuguese manager. Anthony Martial has been marginalised despite carrying the club over the holidays. Mourinho may be a great manager but his record suggests he cannot coach. After all, giving orders and teaching are two different things.
He originally sold Juan Mata, who had been Chelsea's most productive star before his arrival. He continually sent Romelu Lukaku on loan. He has now benefitted from coincidence in having Mata at his disposal again, and from United's vast resources which were used to reunite the manager with Lukaku. Has he sincerely admitted his mistakes or is he laughing at the fact others did the heavy lifting by developing talent, a task for which he had no time.
Recently, Mourinho has claimed he did not sell Mo Salah. This is true. The Egyptian was dealt away after he had been sacked again. What he would have us ignore is that the club released the player because the manager did not value him, did not play him, did not indicate he had any plans for the future star.
What would have become of Chelsea had De Bruyne and Salah's talents been recognised, appreciated, and harnessed? These two players are in a world of their own. They have singlehandedly propelled their teams to great heights at a time when Chelsea is struggling. De Bruyne has been the fulcrum of Man City while Salah has been the star of the show for Liverpool. One has lifted the Premier League trophy. The other is advancing towards a Champions League final. Those are Mourinho's stated priorities. How can he rationalise letting the two players go?
When the nominations for the 2018 Ballon d’Or are announced, both players will feature prominently on the list. Mourinho could have built his team around them. Perhaps he would have that elusive third Champions League trophy at a third club. On the other hand, perhaps the fact he keeps changing clubs reveals the flaw in his character.