Mourinho Has a Point About Young Players – but He Should Trust Them More

Mourinho Has a Point About Young Players – but He Should Trust Them More

Wednesday, 5 December, 2018 - 07:15
‘Mourinho’s reaction to Rashford’s miss against Young Boys was poor. I don’t think he would have behaved like that if it had been Romelu Lukaku or another older player.’ Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
London - Eni Aluko
There’s been a lot of debate this week about the difference between young players today compared to 10 years ago after José Mourinho referred to them as “spoiled kids”. It’s interesting because I do think things have changed significantly in terms of their level of readiness.

Young players have always found it hard to break into the first team but those who did in the past such as Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen were much more ready to make that step than those who are coming through now. You don’t see many 18-year-olds doing the same these days – Marcus Rashford was probably the last one to do so at a big Premier League club.

There are always exceptions to the rule but I think Mourinho has a point in that there are a lot more distractions around for modern players. Fans are right to sometimes question what is the main motivation for the players – is it football, making money or social popularity? Some are posting selfies and videos on Instagram 10 minutes after they get into the changing room and they’ve not won anything of significance yet.

People such as Ferdinand have expressed their reservations about that because they know how much hard work it takes to be successful. Rio would never have been allowed his phone in the changing room under Sir Alex Ferguson. But that is the way it is now – social media has created a cult of individualism where everyone has a brand.

I am not suggesting this is bad and it can have its place, but it is probably the biggest difference in how things are for young players now compared to 10 years ago.

Society has also changed. When I was a kid we used to just play on the streets and so did people such as Wayne Rooney. I have a younger brother who is only 10 but he is already in the academy system at a professional club, which some would argue doesn’t necessarily give kids that grit and determination to succeed like those who come from playing in the street with jumpers for goalposts. Some of the South American players, including Luis Suárez, Sergio Agüero and Diego Costa, have that fight in them because they learned to play on the streets and it’s ingrained in their football culture.

Many young players in this country have grown up in an environment where they have been protected somewhat from any heavy challenges and have had all their kit laid out for them since they were 12. While there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, we have to understand there is a difference in culture now.

It’s difficult when everything has been handed to them on a plate at such a young age. I’m not sure how many can deal with the constant pressure of professional football – some of them are getting paid £25,000 a week at the age of 18 and not playing in the first team. It’s harder to develop players with a tougher mindset. Rashford is not going to be like Rooney when he was 21 because they have grown up at different times and with different backgrounds.

It is important for footballers to be able to relate to their managers, so having a conduit there who has been a player, like Robbie Keane is going to do with Mick McCarthy and the Republic of Ireland, is a great idea. I’ve always liked going to the source and speaking directly to the manager but for young players who may not know how to approach certain things, having someone who has been through all of that before and only recently retired could be very helpful.

Sometimes it’s less about putting an arm around their shoulder and more about making them feel equal. When you make a young player feel young, it doesn’t necessarily help them – they often want to be treated like everyone else. If you respect their talent, then that can give them the confidence to express themselves. Coaches can sometimes mollycoddle players too much – if they are good enough, then they are old enough.

I always try to talk to my younger teammates in the same way I would do with my older ones and you can see in their eyes how much showing them some respect means. In my past experience with England, we had young players coming in such as Nikita Parris and I just tried to be normal with her. I remember we had a dance-off once, and I obviously always won! It’s all about trying to figure out their personalities and what makes them tick. If a young player feels comfortable in a team then they will flourish and be who they want to be. It’s less about patronising them and more about trusting them.

That’s why Mourinho’s reaction to Rashford’s miss on Tuesday against Young Boys was so poor. Whether Rashford misses or not is not really the point. I don’t think Mourinho would have turned to the crowd and shook his head like that if it had been Romelu Lukaku or another older player.

There has often been criticism that Mourinho has an issue with trusting young players to perform and that reaction just reinforced that view. I hope it doesn’t bother Rashford too much. His best reaction would be to just finish the chance next time.

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