Calm Down Manchester United Fans, Jose Mourinho's 'Youth Clearout' Is Overblown Guff - It's Fine

25/08/2016 16:49

​Ashley Fletcher, Donald Love, Tyler Reid, Guillermo Varela, Tyler Blackett, Nick Powell, Paddy McNair, Adnan Januzaj and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

It's not the start to a football-themed re-imagining of We Didn't Start the Fire - it's a rundown of some of the 'top youngsters' who have left Manchester United this summer, whether on loan or on permanent moves.

It's an extensive-looking list which is being printed out, rolled up and used to beat Jose Mourinho around the head. It's proof, for those who were looking for proof, that the Portuguese head honcho is on his way to destroying the club's fine tradition of bringing through young players into the first team.

Marcus Rashford hasn't played a single Premier League game this season. Not a minute of action. It's enough to make a man weep.

But Mourinho hasn't turfed out the club's next big things, has he? He's turfed out some distinctly average players who have already proved that they aren't likely to make it at the very top level, and found good loan moves for those who still have half a chance of making the grade.

The real talents - the Marcus Rashfords, the Timothy Fosu-Mensahs - have been kept in-house, and even offered new deals. This isn't a case of Mourinho systematically purging anybody under the age of 22 from the club, it's just an old-fashioned pruning of a filled-up youth system.

As it goes, the summer has been pretty standard on departures from Old Trafford - maybe even a little on the light side, with nine players leaving permanently thus far, compared to 12 and 14 respectively in the summers of 2015 and 2014. Granted, not all of those were 'youth' players, So why does it look so bad?

In part, Mourinho's reputation plays into how the situation looks from the outside. When fans were concerned about his youth policies months before he was even appointed manager, there was always going to be some extra scrutiny afforded to his decisions.

The other, equally pressing reason is nothing to do with Mourinho at all, and more to do with United's injury crisis last season. The number of players Louis van Gaal was forced to promote from the youth team was unprecedented, and turned a handful of players who were - with the best will in the world - absolute nobodies into relatively well-known names.

Take Donald Love, for example. Plucked from the Under-21s to sit on the bench just after the turn of the year when he didn't even have a Wikipedia page (take it from someone who had to dig things up about him for a factfile!), Love replaced the injured Matteo Darmian against Sunderland before starting a single Europa League game against Midtjylland.

He wasn't very good.

Signed alongside Paddy McNair by David Moyes at Sunderland for a fairly inflated fee of £5.5m, Love started against Middlesbrough on the weekend for no other reason than 'he used to play for United'.

He was very, very bad.

The point is that without last season's injury crisis, the majority of players jettisoned by Mourinho this summer wouldn't have even been a blip on the news radar - without a first team game, just another prospect who never made it. Love, McNair, Varela? Were it not for some exceptional circumstances, their departures would barely have registered. It's not a culling of the talented, it's a pruning of the deadwood - and the fact that they've played for the first team doesn't change that one bit.

The players still contracted to the club are a far more interesting proposition. Januzaj has been given one last chance to get regular football and prove himself, while Borthwick-Jackson's season playing in Wolves' first-team should prepare him far better physically than some run-outs in the laughably named 'Premier League 2'.

Then there's Marcus Rashford, and the mass panic and/or outrage that he's yet to play in a whole two games, in which his new mentor Zlatan Ibrahimovic (​seriously, they're staying behind after training to work together on some shooting) has scored three goals.

Give it a rest. He's 18 years old, and has less than six months experience of first-team football, full stop. Yes, he's going to sit behind Zlatan 'I can score an overhead kick from 17 stadiums away' Ibrahimovic. Putting a full title challenge at one of the biggest clubs in the world onto the shoulders of a raw teenager would be one of the worst decisions ever made in football - that would have been an irresponsible decision from Mourinho. That would have shown a disrespect for his youth players.

The jury's still out on Mourinho's long-term effects. It has to be, he's only been at the club a couple of months. This 'clear-out' isn't a mark against him though - maybe even the opposite.

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