F365 Says: Club vs country? That argument is dead
1 weeks ago, 17:21
Jose Mourinho was right, and Jose Mourinho wanted to make sure everyone knew he was right. In his pre-match press conference, Manchester United’s manager came armed with statistics on Marcus Rashford’s appearances throughout his tenure. If Louis van Gaal’s attempt at the same strategy – a response to Sam Allardyce criticism in February 2015 – was shambolic, Mourinho was far more calm and assured. This was him in his element.
You might point out that Rashford has only played 11 90-minutes’ worth of matches in 2018, to use Mourinho’s own unit of measurement. You might ask more generally about Mourinho’s treatment of young players, and Josh McEachran will tell you his own story. But you cannot doubt that Rashford has played plenty of football for a local-born 20-year-old at an elite club.
Yet in the grander scheme of things, Mourinho’s answers are irrelevant. His was an attempt not at championing English youngsters, but self-defence. But this is an argument where the proof lies in the question, not the answer. That we are even discussing the exact number of minutes given to English football’s next great hope is indication enough of the problem. Our young players are fighting the tide.
In other countries, managers are not spending this week being quizzed so readily about the minutes afforded to young, domestic players. There might be one exception: Italy. “I was asked the same question in Italy: why is it so difficult for Italian players to play at the big clubs in Italy?” Maurizio Sarri said last week. “I think it’s normal. It’s difficult to play here. It’s difficult.” Italy’s national team has reached its nadir, failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in their history. Just coincidence.
The unspoken truth of England’s summer overachievement is that it should never have happened at all. For all the arguments and counter-arguments about easy draws and lack of open-play chance creation, the World Cup provided such intense joy to so many principally because it was so unexpected. Gareth Southgate led England further than every manager since Terry Venables with the scantest resources of that period. Of team that started against Switzerland on Tuesday, five had started one or fewer Premier League games so far this season. England’s reserves are Premier League reserves.
The pool has shallowed to the point of puddle. Last week, the Guardian reported that 30.4% of the 79,200 Premier League minutes this season had been given to English players, a further drop from last season and another new low. Those figures are skewed by a significant English contingent at Bournemouth and Burnley.
The usual retort at this juncture is that the best talent will always break through, but that seems a highly optimistic – to the point of naive – assessment. Jurgen Klopp spoke in the summer about how only Nathaniel Clyne’s injury had led him to taking a chance on Trent Alexander-Arnold, but again the best example is Rashford.
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