If there is any manager in world football who knows how to rub people up the wrong way with his contentious opinions and general lack of tact, it’s Jose Mourinho. Whether he is accusing referees of conspiring against him, insulting every Muslim on Earth by belittling Ramadan or poking opposing coaches in the eye, he always seems to be upsetting someone.
In a way, it’s a part of his draw. The media have always – well, mostly – gravitated to him because he is news. Nearly everything he says has the ability to sell newspapers, magazines and TV space – whether he has created this persona on purpose is not for us to say.
Either way, we all know he’s a bit of a cretin. Yet, at the same time he is – or certainly, has been – a great coach. Don’t even try to deny that. Try to argue against that… Exactly, regardless of your leanings, there is nothing anyone can say to counter that.
His tough-love approach has, more or less – with the exception of last season at Chelsea – worked. And that’s why it can’t be a huge surprise to see him calling out Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw at the moment.
Mourinho publicly castigated the pair before and after Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Swansea City. Smalling said he wasn’t 100% and Shaw claimed he wasn’t able to play either, both on the morning of the match.
Perhaps the pair would have been in danger of aggravating injuries. Granted, that’s the risk. But surely that is a discussion that would have been had before travelling all the way to Swansea?
Smalling had missed a few games, but he had also been training for much of the week and clearly felt well enough to travel. As for Shaw – he played 90 minutes on Thursday. Perhaps he is cautious after his nightmare last season, but two injuries aren’t related at all.
Mourinho was right to call them out.
“If I were to speak with the many great football people of this team, they will say they played many times without being 100%.
“We have players on the pitch with problems. In every sport, how many times do you play and you’re not 100%?”
Mourinho to BBC Sport.
Their decisions left United in the lurch. The club had won only one of their previous four games in all competitions and were already having to contend with numerous long-term injuries, particularly at the back.
As a result of Smalling and Shaw ruling themselves out, Ashley Young had to fill in at right-back, with Matteo Darmian awkwardly shifted over to the left. The out-of-favour Marcos Rojo started at centre-back with Phil Jones, who had not played a minute of competitive football since January 2. “Makeshift” would be putting it kindly.
Luckily for United, they were able to come out victorious and it was, ironically, one of their best performances of the season.
Though, this looks set to rumble on. Smalling and Shaw have both put it into Mourinho’s mind that they have weak mentalities and are not as willing as some of their team-mates to put their bodies on the line. Both have been seen as two of the few positives for United since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, but they are now potentially facing a serious task getting back into the team.
Mourinho is right; they need to toughen up.