Why criticism of Jose Mourinho's reign at Manchester United is unfounded and illogical
"It's a pity that the manager is Mourinho because normally he's an English player you want to give him time and he can then make mistakes. But Mourinho is not like that. He wants to get results."
This is what Dutch legend and former Ajax manager Frank De Boer said recently about Jose Mourinho's treatment of Manchester United wunderkind Marcus Rashford, after the English international's brace against Liverpool.
De Boer will be remembered by younger football fans not for his exploits as a talented defender in the Netherlands national team of yesteryear, but for his dismal spell as manager of English side Crystal Palace, where his side lost the first four games without scoring a solitary goal.
Many pundits believe that the former Dutch star should have been given more time to shape and mould his team to play his "style of football" - a robust and fluent 4-3-3 system which De Boer, like most Dutchmen, are used to playing and has paid rich dividends in the past, notably the Dutch national team, Ajax and the all-conquering Barcelona team.
But, unfortunately, for Crystal Palace fans, it didn't go exactly to plan, and Palace are now staring at relegation, despite a turn of fortunes under former England manager, Roy Hodgson.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, has steered the ship efficiently, in his 'pragmatic' manner and led his side to second in the table, 16 points behind champions-elect, Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola and his men have run away from the rest of the pack and have done so in a dominant display of ruthlessness, and pleased neutrals by playing football the supposed 'right way'.
Understanding Mourinho's tactics at Manchester United
The English press have always been critics of Mourinho. They have shouted from the rooftops about how football should be played the 'right way' (while the English national team is known to play 'route one' football).
Even the failed managers-turned-pundits, who draw eyes through sensationalist comments that grab the headlines, are wrong in their disapproval of Mourinho's tactics and 'anti-football' style of play.
The Portuguese manager has a style of play that is reminiscent of Italian football clubs of yesteryear, who thrived on a strong and steady backline, and opportune attackers who move the ball back-to-front swiftly.
Mourinho has employed this tactic at every club he has managed; the Porto team that ran out surprise winners in the Champions League which earned him a move to Chelsea; the double-winning Chelsea team; the Inter Milan side that defeated Bayern Munich in the 2009/10 Champions League final, after a masterclass in defending in the semi-final against a Barcelona team that was at the peak of its powers; the Real Madrid team that got the better of the same Barcelona team in the 2011/12 season, and the Chelsea team that he guided to another Premier League title on his return to English football.
It is now established that Mourinho uses a tactic and style of play that he's familiar with and trusts, much like De Boer, whose natural tactic is the 4-3-3 system, that failed with Crystal Palace and his managerial role prior to Palace, at Inter Milan, where he lasted just three months, losing 7 of the 14 games he managed.
De Boer can't be faulted for using a system he trusts, while Mourinho shouldn't be criticised as long as he wins trophies and shows that his team have progressed.
And the stats show that Mourinho has improved this United side. He delivered three trophies, albeit two second-rung trophies in the Community Shield, EFL Cup and Europa League, but more importantly, has lifted United to second in the table this season, after disastrous performances under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
Mourinho has stuck to United's traditions of promoting youth
Mourinho's treatment of young players and upholding Manchester United's values of promoting from within was questioned after his appointment as manager of the Red Devils.
But the former Chelsea boss has shown that the criticism levelled at him of being a manager who shows faith in experienced stars rather than youth players is untrue by making two youth players - Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay - the latest to transition to the senior team - a key part of his team.
Academy graduate Jesse Lingard has also had his best season in a United shirt under Mourinho's tutelage.
Rashford, who burst onto the scene unexpectedly during the Louis van Gaal regime, and the subject of De Boer's outburst against three-time Premier League and two-time Champions League winner Mourinho, made 53 appearances in Mourinho's first season in charge, scoring 11 goals, and has made 40 appearances so far this season, bettering his goal tally by one from last year.
De Boer's criticism seems silly going by the stats, and it is only wise that a player like Rashford, who has the potential to become a world-class talent and is only 20 years of age should be treated with kid gloves, owing to the intense media scrutiny and pressure that young English stars of the past, like Michael Owen, Theo Walcott, and Wayne Rooney have been put under, which seemingly affected their progress in the game.
Lingard, meanwhile, has shown that he can be an integral part of the United first-team and has bagged goals in crucial games. He has scored 13 goals this season, two more than what he scored in the previous two seasons combined.
McTominay, another United product, ticks all the boxes that Mourinho requires in a central midfielder: tall, powerful and determined. He has been the find of the season for Manchester United and Mourinho, and has usurped Ander Herrera and even Manchester United's record signing Paul Pogba's place in the first first-team.
McTominay is 21 years old and is only going to mature and develop into a midfield general that the Red Devils have missed since the departure of Roy Keane.
Can Guardiola boast of any youth talent from City?
Meanwhile, on the blue side of Manchester, Pep Guardiola, the 'messiah' of modern football, who has changed the way the game is played, seems to have added another trophy to City's cabinet.
But the one difference between Guardiola and his Manchester United counterpart, apart from the swashbuckling football and the Spaniard's penchant to pay over the odds for defenders, is their youth policy.
Guardiola, famed for developing world-class players like Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, and one Argentine genius by the name of Messi, has promoted... None.
City don't have the heritage of pushing youth players to the first-team (the last City player of note who came through the ranks was Micah Richards, who is now playing for Championship club Aston Villa).
City's equivalent of Rashford, Kelechi Iheanacho, was deemed surplus to requirements at the Etihad and made a switch to Leicester City at the start of the season, and has scored a meagre 6 goals in 21 appearances.
Manchester City's crown jewel is England U-17 World Cup winner, Phil Foden, who has been praised by Guardiola and is destined for big things, but the Englishman is just 17 and has several world-class players ahead of him in the pecking order, which means that he will have to wait for a chance in the first-team.
So, is it justified to say that Mourinho does not provide youth a chance when the stakes are so high that even one of the greatest managers of the modern era, Guardiola, cannot offer a chance in his side to several talented City youngsters, while the Portuguese has given ample opportunities to three youth academy products?
Guardiola is regarded as one of the greatest, but will he be judged on his policy of not promoting from within and not giving Foden and co. a chance in the first team, the same way that Mourinho is criticised for having a pragmatic approach to football?