When Jose Mourinho arrived at Manchester United and held his first press conference the alarm bells should have been ringing for those Reds doubting he’d be a good fit.
United’s tradition of giving youth a chance is well documented and Jose was waiting like an angry Rottweiler to be asked the question of whether he intended to give the club’s academy players first-team opportunities.
I was sitting in the front row of the press conference next to Dom McGuiness from Talksport who posed the question. I quickly felt myself shifting away from him in my seat as Mourinho fixed an angry stare then produced a piece of paper and went on a rant Rafa Benitez would’ve been proud of.
Mourinho’s claim that he’d always given young players a chance was more or less nonsense and his piece of paper he used to try and prove it about as convincing as the one Neville Chamberlain waved in front of the press 70 years earlier.
To be fair to the manager formerly known as the Special One, he was hardly brought in to the club for his reputation of bringing through youngsters and his attitude towards some of them during last year’s pre-season tour spoke volumes.
The then United manager more or less said the academy players he’d took on the tour wouldn’t be given a chance once the season started and he was begrudgingly stuck with them.
Ole Gunnar’s Solskjaer’s arrival changed all that and we saw some of the academy players we’d heard so much about being given a real first team opportunities.
The sight of Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood celebrating fellow academy product Marcus Rashford’s last-minute goal in Paris was arguably the most iconic moment of last season for many Reds.
As well as Chong and Greenwood, there’s also James Garner and Angel Gomes who are expected to play an important role over the coming years.
Gomes was the youngest United first team debutant since a certain Duncan Edwards over 60 years earlier. Garner, despite being something of a Maverick – ask your dad, he’ll get it – had a solid cameo against Crystal Palace and has shown on the 2019 summer tour what he’s capable of, albeit against mediocre opposition.
With Ole unlikely to bring in more than one or two more players this summer and the dreaded spectre of a long Europa League campaign looming, now could be the perfect chance to see United’s young quartet handed the chance to truly shine.
Of the four mentioned talents, it’s Greenwood who excites me the most, a direct and quick striker in the Robin van Persie mould – he even runs like him and has a similar physique. Greenwood’s goal scoring record at junior level is quite frankly ridiculous and as he showed against Cardiff last season he’s not overawed by Premier League football – he was easily our best player on that dreadful day at the end of the campaign.
With Gomes’ trickery and Greenwood’s goals, Garner’s midfield composure and assuredness is the perfect compliment. The Scouser – does Birkenhead count? – has been compared to Michael Carrick and has a maturity above his years.
When it comes to Chong he was arguably the one youngster most people were talking about last summer and it wasn’t just because of his mesmerising barnet. The Dutch winger has all the attributes to become a top player and any doubts about his build being too slight, seem misplaced. Balance makes up for it when the top wingers lack the build to outmuscle players and Chong’s is second to none.
In Greenwood, Gomes, Garner and Chong the Reds have four players who could become future stars – and Great Scott, that future may be sooner than we think!
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