Monday 24 June 2019

Mourinho's evisceration of Shaw serves nobody except himself

Luke Shaw receives instructions from manager Jose Mourinho before coming on against Everton. Photo: Reuters
Luke Shaw receives instructions from manager Jose Mourinho before coming on against Everton. Photo: Reuters

Ian Herbert

Jose Mourinho began with a compliment when he discussed Luke Shaw in Old Trafford's tight press conference room late on Tuesday night, and that is why the calmly articulated evisceration that was to follow caught you momentarily off guard and, even by his standards, was stunning.

"He had a good performance," the Manchester United manager said of Shaw before the cold assassination.

"He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him," Mourinho said. "The communication was possible because we were very close. We need at this level the fantastic body he has to play football, the fantastic physical qualities and technical but he cannot play with my brain…"

This critique was so calculated that it came with one of those sound bites that Mourinho is always able to reach for. "It was his body with my brain," he said.

The whole business was over in a minute or so - 150 words at most - and at the end you reflected on all the words the manager has expended on the subject of Shaw this week and wondered if any young player has ever been subject to quite such vilification by his manager in the public arena.

Well, Roberto Mancini could dig individuals out at times but nothing like this. It is a humiliation quite apart and any pretence that it is a way of toughening up a 20-year-old vanished weeks ago.

Read more: 'Dangerous' Jose Mourinho at risk of unsettling Manchester United changing room, warns Rio Ferdinand

As of Tuesday, Shaw knows that he has to play while listening for instructions from his manager - but not listening too much.

There is no disrespect in saying that a "fantastic body" is not the description most observers would have for Shaw's physique and you have to suspect Mourinho, who used the adjective twice, was employing disguised irony about the full-back's metabolism.

There is always a motive with Mourinho. Every utterance in his press conference arena has a purpose - and part of it is his desire to be seen as the arch-manipulator and motivator, deftly using the public arena to pull the strings.

There seems to be more of this discourse than ever. Jesse Lingard, Chris Smalling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba are just a few on the receiving end.

This string-pulling is fine if the going is good but United's is not. Their famous "20-game unbeaten run" is a smoke screen, since 10 of those 20 games were draws. United may drop more points at Old Trafford than in any Premier League season: 21 already, six short of the 27 in the David Moyes season, with Chelsea still to visit.

Last Saturday's attack on Shaw by Mourinho obscured the most shocking part of his discussion after the goalless draw with West Brom: the Portuguese's admission that he would know by the end of this weekend whether he must prioritise the Europa League over the Premier League. Had Moyes discussed tossing off the league campaign with eight games to play, he would have been lynched.

Mourinho is too bound up with himself to find out how managerial greats like Alex Ferguson and Bob Paisley dealt with players they considered to be failing them. Unflinching brutality could be part of it. Both would cast a player off at a stroke. But it was club business.

The outside world never knew. (© Independent News Service)

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