By Mobolaji Abimbola
Can Jose Mourinho ever develop the individual talent of young players? Before answering, consider that his most successful players are fully formed professionals that can adhere to strict instructions for over 120 minutes. To his credit, outstanding players like Diego Lorente, Sarabia, Denis Cherishev, Fabinho, Joselu, Jese Rodriguez, Nacho, Casemiro, Alvaro Morata, Mario Balotelli, Davide Santon, and Carlos Alberto were all under-22 when Mourinho joined their team respective teams. Apart from Balotelli, who had played 70 league games, Carlos Alberto—43 games, and Casemiro—35 games, he was parsimonious with their game time.
Jose is a fantastic manager who puts his team over his players. When he opines that a player cannot help the team, it is either the bench or the door. Manchester United should be grateful for his sack before he began to axe—benching of Paul Pogba and near sale of former Golden Boy, Anthony Martial.
Contrariwise, to a coach like Pep Guardiola, his players are skilful puppets assigned with roles in his beautifully designed possession-based game plan while Alex Ferguson perceives his team as a collection of players: interesting players benefit the team. Before a game, these coaches know the exact skillsets needed for victory; poor form is a rarity for their players, although, some players, notably Juan Veron, Diego Forlan and Yaya Toure were ostracized.
Ferguson rarely signs failed youngster, except Bebe, whom he signed without prior assessment of his playing prowess. His style of recruitment or promotion is to tap the most interesting of the flock. For example, he signed Cristiano Ronaldo after seeing his performance in just one game; he flew to Wales to take Aaron Ramsey in, and his market-tussle for John Obi Mikel. However, he let Paul Pogba, whom he confessed, in his second autobiography, to being irritated by his agent, Mino Raiola, and was happy to get rid of.
Prediction about the future is made easier through data science, which allows us to map the present with past decisions and involvement. This means an agile, young looking homo sapiens, above fifty years old most likely led a healthy youth. Vin Diesel, Brad Pitt, Arnold, Paul McCarthy, the Queen, among others, meant to protect their image and looks, continue to look dashing despite old age. Consequently, any soccer player with a predominant skill that he works on daily, and displays regularly, would have more successes than failures in its deployment. Therefore, when a young player shuns his innate skillsets, for a team role, he begins a fresh learning curve—a longer route to perfection—and loses his style. He develops as a teammate, but may never attain full potential. During Joseph Yobo’s Testimonial, Austin Okocha, at 45, kept wooing the fans with mesmerising dribbles and flick-ons; skills he developed and continued to work on until he was too good to fail.
Many of these players have played for Jose, and together, they have won hordes of trophies. However, he has unintentionally curtailed the development of a few youngsters. Notable amongst them is Nigerian men’s football team captain, John Mikel Obi, a Champions’ League winner with three Premier League Medals, an African Cup of Nations winner, and a Europa League winner. He won the Silver Ball, second to Lionel Messi, at the 2005 FIFA U20 Youth Championship in Netherlands. It was where the real Mikel was seen last.
Clips from the 2005 tournament reveal a player who is active in the final third, agile, carries the team on his back, and is not scared to shoot or make a risky pass. During the 2009/10 season, I watched a Chelsea game against Cardiff, in the FA Cup Round of 16, where he a stoned a parabolic pass, unleased from the left midfield, and curled, over both the opposition’s midfield and defence, towards the right side of the eighteen yard box for a cool finish from Didier Drogba. The whole team went to applaud him including the goal scorer. This was under Coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Mourinho may argue that he gave over forty-nine youngsters, of his seven teams, their first team debut. Only a fraction of a quarter stayed in his first team. The rigidity of his style and his knack for benching or offloading the multi-talented ones, curtails the prospect of talent development. He brought in Mikel and reset his growth. From offence to defence, from creating chances to picking cards, those, sure, are not the right tactics to blooming a player.
After opting to pick up a Bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Obi was froze out of a rigid Antonio Conte’s Premier league-winning team. He moved for the riches of China on an $8.6 million a year salary. However, last week, Mikel terminated his contract with his Chinese club, Tianjin TEDA, after Forbes published news of his depreciated value; he is now on the lookout for a new club.
The news was not shocking as the Chinese league is incomparable to any in Europe, and there are many under-30 players valued above £100 million. A 31-year-old African professional in China should be worth less than £4.6 million. Samuel Eto’o, still playing for his choices and scoring, Drogba, recently retired, and Patrick Viera, played till 35 and retired in topflight. Thus, these facts negate any assertion that Mikel’s decline is African, neither is age a justification. Mikel is thirteen (13) days older than Cesc Fabregas, yet, Cesc, with no Champions’ League medal, still possesses a delicate ball control, a heightened vision, and a perfect pass. Despite his agreement to join Monaco, Chelsea will not sell until they have a replacement.
The difference between Mikel and Fabregas is not only based on ideology, but also the coaches they had in their prime. The one coached to move closer to the final third grew into a veteran passer, an assist leader, and now is a deep-lying playmaker, while the other, sent deeper, with his leggy advantage, is a now midfielder cum defender, clueless twenty meters from goal.
Players that aim to develop their unique panache should avoid rigid coaches, and go to teams with a high sense of discipline, and where their potentials can be fully harnessed.
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