Not for the first time under Jose Mourinho, Luke Shaw’s prospects at Manchester United appear bleak.
England left-back Shaw was hauled off at half-time during Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Brighton and Hove Albion and found himself on the wrong end of a stinging post-match rebuke from Mourinho.
Back at the media microphones he performed so prolifically in front of last week, the Portuguese said: “Luke – I cannot say much more. It is a relation with personality, it is a relation to trust, it is a relation to class.
“Luke, in the first half, every time they went in his corridor the cross was coming and a dangerous situation was coming, so I was not happy with the performance.”
A subsequent report by The Telegraph suggested members of the United first team feel Shaw is being “bullied” by Mourinho, while The Sun alleged a pre-match row between player and manager at the club’s training base.
Here, we trace how the relationship between one of world football’s most decorated coaches and one of English football’s brightest young talents has turned sour.
Mourinho’s public criticisms of Shaw have tended to come back to a perceived lack of work-rate and tactical awareness on the part of the 22-year-old.
Shaw continued an ever-present Premier League run at the beginning of Mourinho’s reign when he started their fifth match of the season at Watford.
However, a 3-1 reverse at Vicarage Road – on the back of a 2-1 derby loss to Manchester City at Old Trafford – left Mourinho zeroing in on a culprit.
“For the second goal they receive the ball and our left-back is 25 metres away instead of five,” he said.
“But give him 25 metres and you have to press. But no, we wait. It is a tactical but also mental attitude.”
Going through all your letters and post, thanks for the support!! pic.twitter.com/dpGtHpRAAx
— Luke Shaw (@LukeShaw23) October 13, 2016
Sitting out against Swansea
Shaw played one minute in United’s next four Premier League games, but voiced a determination to regain favour with Mourinho.
“I’m a grown man and I can take what the manager says,” he insisted. “I’m still young and I need to take on what he said and improve.”
A full 90 minutes against Burnley followed, but Shaw’s withdrawal through injury before a trip to Swansea City drew more ire.
“Luke Shaw told me this morning that he was not in the condition to play, so we had to build a defensive line,” Mourinho told MUTV, before pointedly adding: “Daley Blind has some problems but he put himself available to be on the bench and to try to help the team, so the people that are here are people that I trust for a difficult match.”
After the game, with the absent Chris Smalling having also been bracketed alongside Shaw pre-match, the manager expanded upon his theme.
“There is a difference between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference,” said Mourinho. “For the team you have to do anything, that is my way of seeing [things].”
— Luke Shaw (@LukeShaw23) March 12, 2018
Fourth choice left-back
As it happened, Shaw spent the rest of the 2016 out with a groin injury. It would be March before he played in the league again.
Mourinho insisted selling the defender was “out of the question” but explained he was not part of the squad to face Saint-Etienne in the Europa League because he was United’s fourth choice left-back at the time.
“He stayed behind in Manchester because I’m playing with Daley Blind, with Marcos Rojo, with Matteo Darmian, and all of them are playing the way I like a full-back to play,” he said.
“Luke has to wait for his chance and work better and better, knowing I give nothing for free. When I give something to the players, it’s expensive for them – it’s not cheap.
“They have to work hard every day, they have to play well, so he has to wait. And, at this moment, he’s behind the others.”
Ticking over on my weekend off pic.twitter.com/GHJM3sKSx7
— Luke Shaw (@LukeShaw23) November 13, 2016
‘He has to change his football brain’
Four days on from leaving Shaw out of his matchday 18 for the 0-0 draw at home to West Brom and again questioning his professionalism, a second-half injury to Ashley Young forced Mourinho’s hand with United 1-0 down against Everton
Shaw was in the thick of the action in stoppage time when his rasping strike was handled in the six-yard box by Ashley Williams, bringing a red card for the Everton centre-back before Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted the resulting penalty.
Corner turned? Not so much, as Mourinho sensationally told BT Sport Shaw only played well because he was telling him what to do.
“I think he has to change his football brain,” he said. “I was telling him just now, he was doing things in the second half because he was reacting to my voice.
“If he was playing on the other side, for sure he would not do it because I was not there to think for him.”
— Luke Shaw (@LukeShaw23) December 13, 2017
Like any soap opera, the Mourinho-Shaw saga was by now regularly rehashing its own storylines. Shaw conceded his boss might have had a point over his work-rate and won praise for a performance at Sunderland.
However, after Shaw “did something new” in Mourinho’s eyes by playing through pain against Anderlecht, foot ligament damage sustained in a home game against Swansea was again treated with a withering tone.
It kept Shaw out until 2017-18 was up and running and, following the expected warning he would need to work hard to get back in the first team, the full-back’s first start of the campaign in a December win over CKSA Moscow was warmly received.
“Shaw put in a very positive performance, especially in possession,” said Mourinho. “He created a lot of danger and created a lot of dangerous situations. He deserved a chance and he will get more chances in the future.”
4 – No Manchester United player had more touches in the opposition box in the first half against CSKA Moscow than Luke Shaw (4, double that of Romelu Lukaku). Surge. pic.twitter.com/I7u4S1MyV3
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 5, 2017
In January, Shaw said he was feeling better than at any time since his horror leg break in 2015 and the following month, Mourinho spoke of a happy future that now, once again, seems fanciful.
“Could he come in my direction and the way I see and think football, the way I like my players on the pitch and in training? He made a big effort. Now, for a few months he is free of minor injuries and I’m really happy,” he said.
“So, I think the natural consequence is that he will have his [new] contract and he will be a Manchester United player for years.”
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