It was hidden somewhere behind the thinly veiled jabs at Iker Casillas and the Spanish media, beneath the Twitter friendly ‘Happy One’ sound bite, Jose Mourinho’s first press conference since returning to Chelsea did contain one point of genuine interest. He may or may not have been spinning a line when he spoke about attempting to make John Terry "the best player he can be" but, when he spoke about leaving a lasting legacy and giving young players a stable future, there is evidence to support his claims.
“We have no doubts about what we want to do and the approach we want to have,” he told reporters, before going on to say “the most important part of my job at the moment is the improvement of the youth here. They have big potential and I think I have the conditions to help improve them." Looking at the vast sums paid in transfer fees during his original spell at Stamford Bridge, then Inter and most recently Real Madrid, a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that too was just another media savvy sound bite from the man Pep Guardiola once called “the chief” of the pressroom.
Yet upon closer inspection there is every reason to believe it is a promise the coach will keep. While his time at Real Madrid was spent fighting battles on almost every front, it is in Milan where we find what Mourinho is capable of when given genuine control of a club’s policies and planning. With Massimo Moratti desperate to build upon the fleeting success begun under Roberto Mancini, the club President relinquished his usual overbearing power to give the charismatic Portuguese a level of power previously unseen during the owner’s two decades in charge of the club.
Such was his impact on the Nerazzurri that after Claudio Ranieri – once a bitter rival – took charge of Inter in late 2011, he claimed Mourinho should have a statue built in his honour at the club’s training ground. However, while the incredible Treble of 2010 was an immense achievement, it was for the work done behind the scenes which the affable Roman was referring to. Mourinho completely revitalised and invigorated Inter on all fronts, a point not lost in a recent report on youth systems by the European Club Association.
In its extensive research, the body discovered that the Milanese club had revitalised its vision and philosophy after Mourinho demanded that his first team squad – excluding goalkeepers – was made up of “nineteen top players and four from the academy.” The coach told club Managing Director Ernesto Paolillo that the reasons behind this move were to speed up the development of youngsters whilst keeping transfer costs to a minimum. He ensured this was maintained by regularly visiting the academy and meeting with the coaches there to discuss their responsibilities.
Tactics and formations were passed to the teams in order for them to replicate what was happening at the highest level but the individual training sessions and methods used were left to the coaches. Under the guidance of Mourinho, the club’s Primavera squad – made up of players aged 19 and under – went from being one of the worst in Serie A to winning both the prestigious Viareggio Tournament and the NextGen Series in the last two years. After years of failing to supply Italian players to the international setup and being ridiculed for signing countless foreign imports, Inter’s youth system produced no fewer than six of the Azzurri’s Under-21 side at the recent European Championships.
That steady supply looks set to continue as many of the lower age group Italian teams are also filled with numerous Inter players including eight of the most recent Under-17 squad. “Our goal, set by Mourinho,” continued Paolillo, “is to make men of boys and then turn them into Champions.” It is an approach that the coach took little time to implement, immediately adding Davide Santon, Victor Obinna and Francesco Bolzoni to a squad already containing Mario Balotelli. Those three players made fewer than a combined 28 first team appearances in the 2008-09 season, while Balotelli made 31 starts, almost double the amount of the previous campaign under Mancini.
The following season, McDonald Mariga, Rene Krhin and Giulio Donati became first team players, adding 24 appearances to the 55 shared by Balotelli and Santon. Since then a further twelve youth products –including Joel Obi, Felice Natalino and Davide Faraoni have progressed to the first team, making a combined total of 110 appearances for the Nerazzurri. While many of these players quickly move on, they have made the youth sector entirely self-sufficient, with the cost of running the academy offset by the sale of players it developed. Over the past six years, the running costs totalled €36 million while a staggering €78m of income – including the €22m paid by Manchester City for Balotelli – earned the club a profit of just under €42m from its youth operation.
That puts them in stark contrast to many of Italian football’s other top club’s where perhaps only Roma and Juventus operate similar practices. Milan and Lazio have finally begun to follow suit after years of neglecting their own youth sectors in similar fashion to Chelsea, where investment in youth football was run almost as a separate concern to the first team. Now, with Mourinho determined to implement a similar see change strategy at Stamford Bridge, the West London club are set to reap similar benefits to those seen at Inter.
Much like the Nerazzurri, they will still invest heavily in top class players – links to the likes of Stevan Jovetić and Edinson Cavani this summer proved they have lost none of their appetite for spending – but that will be balanced by the presence of more academy graduates joining Ryan Bertrand in the first team squad. The coach will certainly not rely on these players, we certainly won’t see five or six starting games together, but – as the analysis of Inter’s youth system shows – he does far more than pay lip service to the notion.
That is in stark contrast to many of his peers and seeing the England squad crash out of the U-21 European Championships earlier this summer merely served to highlight the need for an increased commitment to football at that level. If that is led by Mourinho, others would surely follow suit and his stature in Britain would grow further still. Much like with the Milanese club, seeing the England youth teams flooded with Chelsea players would certainly make others sit up and take note. That would certainly make a legacy worthy of a truly special one.
Follow Adam on Twitter @Adz77.
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