That can't be right: Jose Mourinho affords most minutes to academy products in top six?
Among the various criticisms regarding Manchester United's appointment of Jose Mourinho a year-and-a-half ago was his reticence to field youngsters and give academy products a chance. At Chelsea, Inter, and Real Madrid he went almost exclusively with established veterans and market acquisitions. The lone notable exception was Raphael Varane at the Bernabeu. Chelsea has notoriously continued the process in his absence, Andreas Christensen being the singular exception.
For its part United has a rich history of bringing through exceptional talent and giving them a platform to thrive. They sell many players, yes, but the best are first given every opportunity to claim a place. Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, and Darron Gibson all spring to mind. Mourinho had not shown sufficient enthusiasm in his previous roles to be trusted, some argued.
One astonishing fact seeks to undermine that preconception. The Red Devils have given 3,540 minutes to academy products this season, easily most among the Premier League top six.
Spurs come in at second with 2,739 minutes. Arsenal is third with 2,516. Chelsea holds down fourth with 1,335 (thanks largely to Christensen).
Liverpool lag behind. Jergen Klopp has handed just 710 minutes to academy products despite boasting a promising array of precocious talents.
Noted La Masia graduate Pep Guardiola has surprisingly afforded just seven minutes to an academy product. Seven. As in the number Alexis Sanchez will wear if he signs with United rather than City.
These stats are derived solely from the Premier League. Any minutes given to youngsters in domestic competitions such as the Carabao Cup are excluded. The figures make the progress made by Mourinho all the more laudable. He has trusted his academy players to perform in the most pressurised environment. The same can be said for Mauricio Pochettino, who has a refreshing attitude towards the benefits of youth.
Can we take this at face value?
In Mourinho's case, the answer would be no. United's stats are a bit hollow in the respect Mourinho inherited both Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. Both had already made an impact before his arrival. Paul Pogba's minutes are included too. The Frenchman came through the United system but was not exactly 'brought through' to the first team. The best that can be said was the fee paid to Juventus for his return was an expensive reminder of youth development's importance.
Having said that, it would have been easy for Mourinho to dismiss both Rashford and Lingard. Rashford, while showing promise, had not manifested into a wholly consistent performer. Serious question marks had been raised over Lingard.
The latter was not a Manchester United player in the eyes of some. He did not have the quality, vision, or sparkle to cut it at the top. Several important goals and England appearances later Lingard has carved out a starting role. Rashford, meanwhile, has been an impact sub this season, awarded the occasional start to rest Anthony Martial. He is the only United player to appear in every match in every competition. Mourinho has elected to trust both and it is paying dividends.
In addition, he has found room for Scott McTominay, who has 101 minutes in both the Champions and Premier Leagues, with a start in both despite Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini, and Ander Herrera all available for Mourinho to rely upon. Axel Tuanzebe has also been around the first team. He has yet to appear in the Premier League but found 18 minutes against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League as well as his domestic cup action.
Mourinho isn't Pochettino, who has ensured there is a discernible pathway between academy and first team, the philosophy being a major component in his ideology. The Portuguese is learning however.
Ignoring at their peril
The most alarming statistics come from Liverpool and Manchester City.
Jurgen Klopp has a plethora of young talent ripe for maturity. Harry Wilson, who has been prolific at U'23, recently refused to sign a new contract because his first team chances were limited. Ben Woodburn, who exploded onto the scene with match-winning performances for Wales, has been given a smidge of senior action. They are two cases of wasted talent.
Who would replace Mo Salah, Robert Firmino, Sadio Mane and until recently, Phillipe Coutinho with relatively unknown prospects? A valid argument, perhaps, but many times Klopp has been left scratching his head as his side fail to break down stubborn opposition.Youthful exuberance and unpredictability can sometimes accomplish what polished technical ability cannot. Klopp needs to show a bit more trust in his youngsters.
And what of Manchester City? The Citizens are intent on creating a legacy. Their vision includes dynastic success, akin to Sir Alex Ferguson's domineering Manchester United.
With the financial muscle at their disposal, success will surely come. Yet, if they do not commit to their youngsters, it will be judged shallow, like Real Madrid's galactico project when compared to Barcelona. Comments have been made regarding City's inability to fill the Etihad even with a winning team. Fergie gave United fans native sons to fall in love with. City must do the same to fully connect with its base.