To all intents and purposes Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has been secured, and there are already questions being asked about the futures of David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres. What’s not being asked so much is what effect the appointment of Mourinho will have on Chelsea’s recent policy of stocking up on young talent. At Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Mourinho has been much more comfortable working with experienced players, using their already high levels of talent to make and shape his teams. He doesn’t have a record of promoting young players from the youth departments of these clubs at all. He doesn’t have a good record of loaning players and then playing them when they have been improved. He has pretty much built his success on signing ready-made players.
The reason that this could sit incongruously with Chelsea’s recent transfer policy is that he will be overseeing a young first-team squad that has a fully stocked and successful youth squad and an assortment of potentially world-class players out on loan around the world. They have building towards the next couple of seasons for the last three years or so, they have a plan. Despite the circus of managerial changes at first-team level, behind the scenes the player recruitment and development policy has been exemplary. They have been preparing for this season and even more so 2014/15 when the likes of Lukaku, Chalobah, McEachran, Courtois and De Bruyne will be nicely polished up ready for action. Not to mention how good the already sublime Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will be by then and the continued improvements of Cesar Azpilicueta that could make him the starter for Spain at the World Cup.
So where does Jose Mourinho fit in to this policy? Is he really willing to give youth a chance? Can he make them better players than they are at the moment? When you hire Jose Mourinho you agree to buy him players. That’s what happened first time around, and that’s the rumour this time around. He doesn’t rate Torres or Ba, so the talk is of them trying to sign Edinson Cavani or Karim Benzema. They are both readymade, plug and play options. But how about Romelu Lukaku. He has the potential to be one the best in the world given his physical gifts, youth and proven output. If they spend £40-50m on a striker they are not signing him to sit on the bench behind Lukaku. Mourinho will certainly prefer the known package Petr Cech over Thibaut Courtois, who could also turn in to the best in his position.
In his last stint at Chelsea no academy players made the breakthrough to first team level. Inter Milan’s top homegrown starlet, Mario Balotelli, was clashed with and sold on, as were a ream of other young Italians who are now starting around Serie A. Mourinho won the Champions League with a team that averaged over 30 years old. Three years later they finished ninth, having been hamstrung by a squad that got too old all at once. At Real Madrid the likes of Canales, Callejon and Morata showed a lot of promise but were not often utilised. The only young player who got significant game time was Rafael Varane but he broke in due to injury to Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe.
The other cross against Mourinho’s name is his supposed weakness in developing young first team players, taking them on to the next level. This criticism isn’t as fair as that he doesn’t blood young players but there is some credence to it. When he first arrived at Chelsea he improved the likes of Lampard, Terry, Cech and Robben plenty but since then his record is more erratic. Jon Obi-Mikel levelled out as did Salomon Kalou. At Real Mesut Ozil, Marcelo and Higuain haven’t really improved from the level they were at when he arrived. Is it something that he has lost his touch with? As he has become more entrenched in his ways he has found less time to develop players. This is a big concern with Mata, Hazard, Ramires and Azpilicueta. Will he be able to take them on to be amongst the best players in the world?
Mourinho will get Chelsea winning games and probably trophies but he has never played players from his youth teams and has recently struggled to improve players as individuals. He has improved the team concepts and winning mentality of Inter and Real but has left them with problems to deal with long term. Can he use Chelsea’s wealth of young resources this time around?