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Youth at the heart of van Gaal’s United legacy

Goodbye then Louis van Gaal, ex-Manchester United manager.

Your passing will be celebrated more than it is mourned.

The fans hated your suffocating, defensive football.

While the players were an irate email away from mutiny.

An FA Cup and a fifth place finish after spending £250 million is not nearly enough.

But when the Dutchman’s Old Trafford reign is dissected, when the negativity is cut away, one glowing positive will remain at its heart – Youth.

Van Gaal gave debuts to 14 graduates of the United academy.

The emergence of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingaard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and others will form van Gaal’s legacy.

The way he integrated these tyros is the shining star in a bleak and tortured spell as United manager. But the seeds he has sown could bear bountiful fruit in years to come.  For that he deserves credit.

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There are few managers more closely associated with youth promotion than the departing Dutchman. Throughout his career young players have defined his teams.

His great Ajax team of the early to mid-90s laid a template that was replicated at Barcelona, Alkmaar and Bayern Munich.

The players Van Gaal blooded in Cataloonia and Bavaria went on to forge the most successful Spanish and German sides of the modern era.

No one is claiming that Rashford and the rest will form the basis of a World Cup winning side but Van Gaal’s willingness to trust youth and promote it carefully should not be discredited. He leaves United an undeniably stronger, more coherent, team than he found them.

They are also set to get better.

His United were the third youngest Premier League squad with an average age of 25.4.

Under Jose Mourinho we can expect that figure to mature.

Van Gaal played a crucial role in Mourinho’s development as a coach but the two are fundamentally opposed when it comes to youth.

Under Mourinho, surely the most youth-averse elite level coach in the modern game, the difference is likely to be stark. United will be an older team.

United’s identity is built on youth, the star-blazing quality of potential made real. It is also built on thrillingly relentless attacking football.

Their former coach delivered one of these elements but failed miserably to provide the style to satisfy the club’s supporters.

Van Gaal’s United turned toxic. But in his willingness to turn to youth he was keeping one part of that famous identity alive.

Will Mourinho do the same?

Why do some young players make it while others do not? That and other questions are the main focus of this site. Football prodigies, next-big-things, never-quite-were's and yet-may-be's.

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