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8/07/2018

WHY CAN'T JOSE MOURINHO DEVELOP HIS PLAYERS?

WHY CAN'T JOSE MOURINHO DEVELOP HIS PLAYERS?

Monday's news that Manchester United has opened talks with Bayern Munich over a potential £50 million deal for Jerome Boateng hardly came as a surprise. It has, after all, become football's way to throw money at every situation that is even the slightest bit problematic.

Jose Mourinho has already failed in pricey moves for Leicester's Harry Maguire and Barcelona defender Yerry Mina, and while reports persist that United are still keen on Toby Alderweireld, his attentions have now turned to a fourth option.

To a backdrop of complaints about the rate of spending on the other side of Manchester, Mourinho has dished out hundred of millions of pounds on new players, but only a small group of United's players can be considered better off now than they were when they joined forces with the Portuguese manager.

Maurizio Sarri, now of Chelsea, once described the transfer market as "the refuge of the weak", explaining the window "is for those who can't train their players. I'm a coach. Give me a group of players and I will coach them."

It doesn't seem like the most outrageous of claims to suggest that managers should be able to coach the best out of their players, which begs the question, why shouldn't every manager feel the same? Is it too much to demand that the best-paid managers in the world should be able to make a talented group of players into something greater than the sum of their parts?

The saving grace for Spurs fans concerned that nobody has yet been signed this summer is that Mauricio Pochettino will be willing and able to improve youth team or squad players. For United, meanwhile, there is little such hope.

The evidence to support the idea that Mourinho does not get the best of his players is striking.

Goalkeepers
David De Gea has been the main beneficiary of United's underwhelming defense, now firmly established as the best goalkeeper on the planet having been forced so frequently into action.

But when Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford, De Gea had just become the first player to be named United's player of the year in three consecutive years. He was hardly an unknown, and Mourinho hasn't really improved him.

Sergio Romero and Joel Pereira have not played enough to pass proper judgment.

Verdict: No improvement.

Defense
The most significant issues remain in central defence, where Mourinho has spent more than £60m on Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof yet still wants a £50m+ addition this summer.

Bailly has looked the real deal when he has been available to play, but quite why, from his other centre-backs - Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzabe plus the departed Daley Blind, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair - there is not a single player Mourinho can mould into a player of sufficient quality reflects awfully on the manager.

It is rare for a club to be so accommodating, and if another purchase is funded this summer that will surely be Mourinho's last chance. He has the resources to create a system that protects the centre-backs to a greater degree than they have been during his reign.

Despite costing more than £30m, Lindelof isn't rated highly enough to be given the chance to learn by playing Premier League football, while Mourinho seems ready to give up on both Smalling - even though he impressed last season - and the injury-prone Jones. Fosu-Mensah's United career looks like it will follow a similar path to Blackett and McNair.

Boateng would bring experience, composure, passing ability and a sizeable frame to United's defence, but his injury record should ring alarm bells. He last managed 20 league games in a season in 2014/15, and suffered eight separate lay-offs last season alone. A lack of consistency in terms of personnel at the back has cost United under Mourinho, and Boateng might not solve that problem.

At full-back, his first choices are the wingers with which Sir Alex Ferguson won the league in his final year at the club: Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.

Valencia has matured and is now a dressing room leader at 33 years of age while Young's transformation into a left-back has prolonged both his club and international careers. Mourinho deserves credit on both counts.

But Luke Shaw has long been fighting an uphill battle to resurrect his United career under Mourinho when he has always had vast potential, and Matteo Darmian has not kicked on. It will be interesting to see how new signing Diogo Dalot fares, given Mourinho reckons he is "the best full-back in Europe in his age group".

Verdict: None of the younger defenders have improved under Mourinho, many have stagnated or even regressed. It does not seem as though there is any chance of youth being blooded. Long-term solutions from within seem unlikely.

Midfield
Scott McTominay! A youngster with a very bright future!

How nice it has been to see McTominay flourish under Mourinho, thrown in at the deep end and given the chance to learn from mistakes made while playing at the top level.

Otherwise, however, things haven't exactly been rosy in midfield.

Paul Pogba has been far less than the £89m world record signing he promised to be, and his performances in a France shirt at the 2018 World Cup served as a reminder of what he can do. Mourinho has not, so far, been able to get the best out of Pogba on anything like a regular basis.
Nemanja Matic has hinted at the form he showed in winning the title with Chelsea but he has been consistently inconsistent. Marouane Fellaini is still Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata is certainly no better than he once was at Chelsea and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ended up leaving. Andreas Pereira has been United's Next Big Thing for about three years.

Jesse Lingard has become one of Mourinho's most trusted players, but there is an argument to say he could even have improved to a greater extent by the age of 25 than he actually has done. Ander Herrera has, meanwhile, been utilised well and frequently by Mourinho in what is clearly his best position, and has reaped the benefits.

Verdict: Some signs of improvement.

Attack
Alexis Sanchez has not fared much better since leaving Arsenal, despite hopes that the (very expensive) move would breathe new life into a career that was losing momentum in London.

Marcus Rashford just keeps getting knocked back every time he looks like he might finally break through and make one of the front three positions in attack his own.

Anthony Martial is a long, long way off being the player he threatened he could become with that wonderful debut goal shortly after he had become the most expensive teenager of all time almost three years ago.

Romelu Lukaku is certainly now up there with the world's best forwards thanks to the faith Mourinho has shown in him, though one can't help but wonder whether another manager might have garnered more than the 16 Premier League goals in 34 appearances he scored last season, particularly considering he had Pogba, Sanchez, Mata, Martial, Mkhitaryan and Lingard among the players creating chances for him.

Verdict: Mourinho could have done more to facilitate his strikers' development and goalscoring.

Football has now become an arms race in which there is little time to be wasted waiting around for a player to improve when there is £100m of television money burning a hole in your chairman's pocket.

But as Sarri said, a manager's job is to coach his players. Playing a system that suits the players you have and teaching them the fine tactical details of your philosophy is a huge part of the role.

Broken transfer records and huge wages are exciting for the fans, but those do nothing without a manager who is able to improve the players under his command. Pogba's struggles perfectly illustrate this point.

Across Manchester, Pep Guardiola is spending as much money but is getting the most of his talented squad. Mourinho continues to trail in his rival's wake.

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