“There are certain things I cannot get from them,” Jose Mourinho said about his players after Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal.
It’s been a familiar gripe from the Portuguese throughout his Manchester United tenure, despite being in charge for five transfer windows.
But while he can follow that up with excuses concerning the board’s co-operation with him, there is another way the manager can bolster his squad – and it is one he is very familiar with.
When he was unveiled as the new manager of the Red Devils, the former Real Madrid boss made a point that he is a man who trusts in youth.
Anticipating criticism of what he called “one lie repeated too many times”, Mourinho presented the media with a list of 49 players he claimed to have promoted from academies.
He did, after all, win the Premier League title in 2005 with the youngest squad ever to do so, one with an average age of just 25 years and 312 days.
Upon further inspection, it was clear Mourinho had tried to manipulate the numbers to reflect positively on himself, but his point remained – he has handed out 36 professional debuts to academy players.
Since arriving at Old Trafford, he has increased that number by six, but only Scott McTominay has made a real impression on the first-team squad.
Given names such as Jese, Alvaro Morata, Nacho, Fabinho, Denis Cheryshev, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen were on Mourinho’s list, it’s a wonder he isn’t looking to United’s academy more.
Given he sits at the helm of a club that has produced some of the best talent this country has ever seen, including a 1995-96 Premier League-winning squad that is younger than only Mourinho’s Chelsea of 2005, it’s even more of a wonder.
And given his desire to prove that he does give youth a chance, it’s quite remarkable.
While he continues to overlook the talent brewing beneath the first-team, United are falling behind in their production of young players, with them no longer one of the leading names in this department.
When England’s youth sides brought home two World Cups and a European Championship last year, only two Manchester United players were involved.
One of those was Dean Henderson, a goalkeeper currently on loan at Sheffield United. The other was Angel Gomes, a creative midfielder who has four goals in eight games for United’s Under-23s this season.
Gomes is another name that Mourinho can add to his debut document, but the manager is doing little else for his development with the 18-year-old nowhere near the first-team this season.
Mason Greenwood is another who could provide a handy solution to Mourinho’s problems. The highly rated 17-year-old striker has netted 17 goals and provided five assists in 16 games across competitions for United’s youth teams this term.
However, despite him occasionally training with the first-team and despite Romelu Lukaku’s poor form, Greenwood does not appear to be in Mourinho’s thoughts.
Instead of this exciting young generation getting a chance, Mourinho is defiantly playing the players he deems ‘not good enough’.
Misfits, who have either proven his point or lost their confidence under the Portuguese, are pulling on the famous red shirt instead of someone who could follow in the footsteps of Marcus Rashford, who has been United’s star player in their last two outings.
As he continues to play a team he knows isn’t up to the task, it’s seems Mourinho has lost his hunger for success and this new, defiant Mourinho is simply out to expose the dysfunctional United board to avenge them not buying the players he has wanted.
While he continues this childish agenda, other clubs are relishing the chance to work with England’s new ‘golden generation’.
Wolves’ own FIFA Under-17 World Cup winner, Morgan Gibbs-White, starred and provided an assist as his team beat Chelsea 2-1 on Wednesday.
His England team-mate Gomes can only wonder what that feels like as he prepares to take on Middlesbrough in the Premier League 2 on Friday – a second-division club who had just as many youth world champions last year as Manchester United.
Mourinho is doing plenty of damage by overlooking the Red Devils’ exciting academy for error-prone transfer flops, most of which he probably doesn’t care about.
But the results that are coming from this are turning his United tenure into a failure and damaging the one thing he loves the most – his reputation as one of football’s greats.