James Ducker in the Telegraph:
"Despite his reputation, United manager's faith in youth has put Guardiola in the shade"
It was mostly overlooked at the time, a casualty of the fanfare surrounding Alexis Sanchez's signing a few days earlier, but when Manchester United announced Jose Mourinho had signed a new contract last month, there was a line from the club's executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, praising the manager's commitment to blooding youth.
"He has embraced the club's desire to promote top quality young players to the first team," said Woodward, a pointed response to those who suggested the Portuguese would pay little more than lip service to the club's rich traditions of cultivating home-grown talent.
Those suggestions had solid enough foundations. For all the success Mourinho's managerial career has brought him, there has been a perennial black splodge next to the box marked youth development and no one has been more aware of this than the man himself.
It has felt very different at United, though, and while entrenched reputations can take a long time to change, certain perceptions are, for now at least, being challenged.
There has been an understandable rush to measure Mourinho and United's every move against what Pep Guardiola has been doing at Manchester City. But while Guardiola has raised all sorts of bars this term, there is a certain irony that Mourinho - "the monster that kills the little kids" as he sarcastically described himself last week - has bought into the academy ethos in a way his great adversary, often heralded as a champion of youth, has yet to do with any particular conviction down the road.
Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, and on a weekend when United supporters honoured the memory of the Busby Babes - one of the ultimate symbols of the potency of youth - there was something rather poignant about Mourinho dropping Paul Pogba and playing academy graduate Scott McTominay in the £89million man's place against Huddersfield.
Before anyone hints at an ulterior motive there, it is worth remembering that Mourinho has never been one for sentiment and that McTominay had already made more starts this season than the entirety of the five academy graduates at City who have fleetingly tasted first-team football under Guardiola since August. Note, too, that Marcus Rashford has made more appearances - 90 - than anyone since Mourinho took charge at United and another academy graduate, Jesse Lingard, who has also flourished, is fourth on that list.
While Mourinho was extolling the virtues of McTominay, or the "kid" as he affectionately calls him, Guardiola was whining about not having enough players in the wake of a mounting injury list and a failed move for Riyad Mahrez, and reiterated the point with a grimly petty decision to name only six substitutes against Burnley.
Such arguments really do not hold much sway when you have spent £450 million in 19 months and have an academy awash with exciting talents, any number of whom would have benefited from the experience of a match-day with the first-team squad. "If you're the academy or reserve-team manager at Manchester City, you must think, 'I'm wasting my time'," said Gary Neville, the former United defender and Sky Sports pundit. "Rather than saying in an interview, 'I haven't got the players', he could say he's brought a young player from the youth team who has been wonderful this season. It's really poor. And I can guarantee you the youth-team coach and reserve-team coach at Manchester City will feel disheartened by him having six players on the bench."
It was a wretched move Mourinho's critics might have once expected him to make but the tide seems to be turning.