Jose Mourinho doesn’t believe Tahith Chong belongs in the Manchester United first team yet, but has plans for the teenager to train more with the senior side in the hope of “increasing his evolution”.
Mourinho feels Chong, 18, is good enough “technically and tactically” to play for United but is not yet there physically as he heaped praise on the Dutch winger following his involvement in the equaliser as the Red Devils came from behind to draw 1-1 with Club America in Phoenix in their opening pre-season game on Thursday.
The Portuguese is without a host of his World Cup players in the United States as Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Ashley Young enjoy a break after their extended exploits in Russia, with David De Gea, Nemanja Matic, new signing Fred and Alexis Sanchez set to join the squad in the next few days.
“I have plans to make him train the most possible times with us, because that increases his evolution,” Mourinho said of Chong.
“But he has to play where he belongs, he has to play in the academy and develop physically, because physically is where he’s not ready.
“Technically, he’s very good, tactically he understands the game and he understands his position, but by the physical point of view, when the game gets into contact situations, he’s in trouble, he’s fragile, he’s still a kid.
“But the talent is there, the personality is there, the passion to play, the humility to learn, so this is a fantastic experience for him. It depends on some cup matches. He’s one of the good kids we have, but it’s not for today but for the tomorrow – he’s a good kid.”
United start their Premier League campaign against Leicester on August 10.
Chong joined the Premier League side from Feyenoord in 2016 and has been part of the Under-18 side since.
He recently overcame a cruciate ligament injury and is continuing to impress. He replaced Anthony Martial after an hour in front of a sparse crowd of 37,660 that was markedly below the University of Phoenix Stadium’s 63,400 capacity.
Chong’s debut for the first-team was followed by Mason Greenwood – two years his junior – when he came on for the impressive Luke Shaw with 14 minutes remaining.
Chong played his part in Juan Mata’s equaliser 12 minutes from time when he fired in a cross which Ander Herrera headed against the right post and Mata scrambled home.
Although Mourinho sees physical limitations in the youngster, who was young player of the year at United last season, the manager praised him for his confidence.
Mourinho added: “He was good. He came with the intention to show, and in a moment where we have no strikers on the pitch, Martial was the only one and then he left, so we needed people to create, have some initiative, which he did.
“The action for the cross for the goal is a beautiful action. He was enthusiastic, he was confident to play.
“Of course physically he has his limitations, and when he has one more touch and he allows that body contact of course he loses it, but when he makes the ball move and attacks people one against one, he has quality.”
Jose Mourinho expected Club America to put his new-look Manchester United squad through their paces – and his prediction appeared to be realised in the 1-1 friendly.
Missing star talents Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, the opening match of a pre-season US tour looked like it might end in defeat for the Reds in Arizona until Juan Mata volleyed to equalise in the 78th minute.
Mourinho told MUTV: “After five days of training you need to play and it’s good to play against a team that is at three days’ distance from starting their Mexican league.
“So (they were) a team with with intensity, a team with quality that pushed us to levels that we are not prepared for… so a good training session.”
A goal-less first half at the University of Phoenix Stadium saw new signing Lee Grant make two saves, while United appeared to struggle to zero-in at the other end.
Anthony Martial and Mata came close, although none caused Club America stopper Agustin Marchesin too much strife.
Mourinho made two changes at the break, replacing Grant with Joel Pereira and switching captain Antonio Valencia for Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
Club America got the better of United in the 59th, Henry Martin finding the net with a stunning header off a cross by Antonio Lopez.
Luke Shaw made a follow-up attempt after play resumed, going wide to the right, and United went more than 15 minutes before another opportunity arose.
It looked to be another miss, Ander Herrera striking the left post with a header, but Mata was waiting at the side of the box to power the volley home.
United’s next stop is in California, where they will play San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday.
Pogba is having a post-World Cup break and Sanchez did not fly out with United at the weekend because of what the club said was a “personal administrative issue”.
New signing Fred, along with Sanchez, is expected to join the squad next week.
Pogba helped Les Bleus win the tournament in Russia, with the final seeing him score as Croatia were defeated 4-2 in Moscow.
Mourinho, who left the 25-year-old out of his first XI at times last season, spoke about Pogba on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
The Portuguese said: “To win the World Cup can only be a positive thing.
“I can only imagine that is only positive, is amazing, is fantastic. So many good players never had the chance to be world champions.
“For Paul, I think to be world champion can only be fantastic.
“I think the future for him in the French national team, amongst that fantastic group of players, can only be brilliant, and I hope that he understands why he was very good.”
Mourinho was speaking on United’s pre-season tour.
He added, according to manutd.com: “I think that’s the point about his performance level and his contribution to a winning team – it’s for him to understand why he was so good, especially in the second part of the competition, quarter-finals, semi-finals, the final, where he was, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant.”
Also regarding the man he signed for £89million in the summer of 2016, Mourinho said: “I did with Paul what I did with all my players.
“I sent a nice message before the World Cup and during it I did not disturb anyone.
“They needed to focus on the job for their national team. After the World Cup I sent a different message than to the other guys because he won the competition.”
Mourinho said pre-season was not proving ideal in terms of the senior absentees.
He added: “Pre-season is very bad, I have to say that. It’s positive for the young boys that have the fantastic opportunity to train with us and know what it is to be a United player, the chance to play against fantastic players. And my coaching staff, with three new staff it’s good for them to adapt to my needs and start working in a new reality.”
While Pogba is having a post-World Cup break, Alexis Sanchez did not fly out with United for their United States tour at the weekend because of what the club said was a “personal administrative issue” which it was hoped would soon be resolved to allow him to join the party at a later date.
Sanchez was absent from the party which headed across the Atlantic on Sunday amid speculation that there was an issue with his visa after he accepted a 16-month suspended sentence in Spain over a tax issue.
🇫🇷 J’ai toujours pensé que gagner la Coupe du Monde me permettrait de réaliser mon rêve. Mais quand j’ai vu les espoirs et la joie de nos fantastiques supporters durant le tournoi, j’ai compris que ce rêve n’était pas le mien. Ce rêve était le NÔTRE et je devais jouer ma partition pour qu’il se réalise. Je ne suis qu’un maillon de la chaîne qui a permis de remporter cette nouvelle étoile ⭐, et je me sentirai toujours honoré d’avoir aidé à l’imprimer sur notre maillot ⭐🏆🙏🏾 . 🇬🇧I always thought wining the World Cup meant making my dream come true. But when I saw the hopes and joy of our wonderful supporters in the tournament I understood the dream was not mine. The dream was OURS and I had to do my part to make it happen. I am just a small piece of the much bigger story behind our new star ⭐, and I am forever blessed to see “her” added to our shirt ⭐🏆🙏🏾 @equipedefrance #fiersdetrebleus #worldcup2018 #worldcup #allezlesbleus
Mourinho said of the Chilean on Wednesday: “It’s really bad and he’s really sad.
“It’s not good for him and not good for me, or for the team. There is no-one to blame. I know the club is making the effort but the US authorities have their processes.
“Hopefully, he can at least join us later because it is important to work with Juan Mata, Alexis and Anthony Martial, who we think are the players we have for the start of the season. There is no (Romelu) Lukaku, (Marcus) Rashford or (Jesse)
Lingard (all of whom were involved in the World Cup semi-finals).”
Mourinho also said full-back Diogo Dalot, signed last month from Porto, will be unavailable for the start of the season and that it is expected the injured Portugal Under-21 international will be “ready for September”.
He said: “Dalot is injured. We knew that but we didn’t want to lose him because of that. He is recovering really well.
“We think he can start training with the team when we go back to England. He is not going to be ready for the start of the season but we think he’ll be ready for September.”
David De Gea, Nemanja Matic and new signing Fred are set to join up with the squad next week. United face Club America in the opening fixture of the tour on Friday.