“He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him. He has to change his football brain.
“We need his fantastic physical and technical qualities but he cannot play with my brain,
“He must accelerate the process. 21 is old enough to have a better understanding. He has a future here but Manchester United cannot wait.”
Another day, another twist in the Jose Mourinho-Luke Shaw saga. Far be it from us to question ‘The Special One’ when it comes to managing his team and his players, but how does calling out a young footballer after a rare outing in which he contributed to a vital equalising goal help matters at Old Trafford?
Had it not been for Shaw, who came on as a second-half substitute, shooting towards goal, Ashley Williams’ handball would not have occurred and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have been unable to convert from the penalty spot to spare blushes at the Theatre of Dreams. Granted, the former Southampton man didn’t do much in his 25-minute cameo to suggest that he’s ready to be the left-back Mourinho needs at this most vital stage of the season, but digging him out publically has effectively guaranteed that this will not change between now and mid-May.
Mourinho very harsh on Luke Shaw after United’s draw with Everton pic.twitter.com/qRW27HZjsB
— Freebets.co.uk (@freebetscouk) 5 April 2017
With just 16 matches under his belt and only 622 minutes of league football played, Shaw’s 2016/17 has not been a walk in the park. It was never going to be, though, with the long road to recovery from a horror leg-break suffered in September 2015 during a Champions League clash with PSV Eindhoven still one he is journeying down. It has been around 18 months since this incident, but building up fitness and, most importantly, overcoming the mental side of the set-back was always going to be tough. To make it tougher still by magnifying his flaws and in turn increasing the pressure on him is as short-sighted as it is nasty from Mourinho.
It’s clear to see what he’s doing. The Portuguese boss wants to eek the potential out of Shaw that saw him signed at such a tender age from Southampton in 2014. An England international in his teenage years, the defender was tipped to be the answer to his country’s issues in the position long-term very early in his career, but the move to Man United perhaps came too early at 18, especially with a £30m transfer fee thrown into the mix. The drop off in his development was alarming under Louis van Gaal initially, which made the leg-break all the more infuriating for all involved as he was showing signs of maturing and adapting in his second season with the club.
The ‘tough love’ approach is one Mourinho has often used. His managerial career is one in which he’s demanded plenty from his players, asking them to run through brick walls for him. While it may seem counter-intuitive to act in a ‘strict father’ manner, some footballers respond to this, seeking to prove their manager wrong, which in turn is a win for the tactician, even though it’s come via the man in question actually working hard to spite him. Rafa Benitez was known for this approach at Liverpool with Steven Gerrard, and Mourinho has already acted this way at United, excluding Henrikh Mkhitaryan during the early phase of the season – which was ballsy given that the Armenian was one of the club’s big summer signings.
Why not use the same approach with Shaw, then, you might ask. Well, Shaw is 21 and has little senior club experience to call upon, while Mkhitaryan is the captain of his country and in the prime of his career – he’s surely more mentally hardened than a rookie defender coming back from an injury that could feasibly have ended a footballer’s career 20 or 30 years ago. There is also the example of Louis van Gaal using the same tactic to attempt to right the youngster’s career in his first season at the club. The Dutchman, another manager known for his hardline approach, was strict with the player, criticising him (albeit not so vociferously) in the media, which produced a negative effect on his performance. It’s believed that senior players at the club went to LVG after seeing Shaw retreat into his shell and an altered approach from Van Gaal contributed to his bright start to 2015/16.
Maybe following suit might be the way forward for Mourinho. He’s already hailed Shaw as “the one that should be in a couple of years the best of all” when discussing his left-back options this season, so why let stubbornness rob him of having such a player at his disposal? Mourinho has a responsibility as the player’s manager to give him the best possible platform to develop and improve, and while pandering to him is not the right approach, highlighting his flaws in the full glow of the media spotlight is equally as incorrect.
Luke Shaw has a long way to go as a footballer and many more hurdles to leap over if he is to fulfil his promise, which he might ultimately fail to do. However, it would at least be nice to see him given the right environment to at least have a fair shot at doing so.