“Every player is different,” Jose Mourinho told French channel SFR Sport earlier this season.
So the fact that the Manchester United boss is employing a ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach with a number of his United players could prove to be a huge mistake.
Having finally drawn Henrikh Mkhitaryan from his shell, the Portuguese boss should be commended. The Armenian looked far from the player which persuaded United to shell out £26million to Dortmund for him in the summer.
“He has to do more. It’s as simple as that,” Mourinho said after the defeat to Fenerbahce in November. And it was not the first time that Mourinho had thrown him under the bus either, but it didn’t take long for Mkhitaryan to respond.
The European away-day criticism from Mourinho helped Mkhitarayan transform his displays and he has started to look like the real deal. It was a feather in the cap for Mourinho.
Obviously buoyed by the turnaround in Mkhitarayan, Mourinho tried a similar tactic with Anthony Martial.
“I had this season a situation that was more difficult than Anthony – Mkhitaryan.
“Mkhitaryan was completely open and understood the difference between me and other coaches he had. He worked a lot without playing, but he worked a lot to try to reach the level,” he said last year.
Martial though has not responded to Mourinho’s mind games. His form has stagnated this season and the Frenchman is yet to rediscover the all-action displays he produced in his debut season.
Now, despite his own admission that “every player is different” the United boss has employed a similar tactic with Luke Shaw.
Just two weeks after being told he was fourth-choice left-back by Mourinho, the youngster was back in the Manchester United line-up against Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime.
At just 21, Shaw might be excused for passing as a 25-year-old such has been his life experience at Old Trafford.
Arriving for £30million-plus as an 18-year-old he was one of the most expensive defenders in history – the pressure was there for all to see.
“I want to continue to progress my career and joining United is the ideal place for me to do that,” said Shaw when he arrived in the summer of 2014.
But with just 42 United appearances under his belt since, the progression that many were expecting has not materialised.
His first season under the stewardship of Louis van Gaal was solid enough but a double leg break was a huge setback and a series of niggling injuries this time around have seen him make just six Premier League starts this season with his last league start coming back in October against Burnley.
He was left out of the EFL Cup final squad last week and no doubt had to be picked up off the floor on Friday when Mourinho suggested he could become the best left-back at the club.
Rewind two weeks and bad cop Mourinho was telling the world how Shaw “was behind” his other full-back options – Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian.
“He [Shaw] stayed behind in Manchester because I am 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,” the United boss said.
“Luke has to wait for his chance, he has to work better and better, knowing that I give nothing for free.
“When I give something to the players, it’s expensive for them. It’s not cheap, it’s expensive.
“They have to work really hard every day. Really hard every day. They have to play well, so he has to wait.
“In this moment, he is behind the others,” said Mourinho on the eve of the cup final.
On Saturday though he was named in back four alongside Phil Jones, Rojo and Antonio Valencia and did not look out of place, although a little rusty, although not as rusty as Jones who was the culprit who dragged down Marc Pugh to allow Bournemouth to score from the spot and cancel out Marcos Rojo’s goal and earn a point with 10 men.
An early long ball forward from Shaw put Paul Pogba through on goal, only for the French star to pull his shot wide of the post and deny Shaw only his second assist of the season.
After just one appearance this year – the FA Cup win over Wigan – Shaw acquitted himself well and Mourinho will have been content with his display, as will Shaw. He was a solid 7/10 performer against a Bournemouth side who were on the back foot for long spells.
Good cop Mourinho’s comments at Friday’s press conference were ones certainly designed to give Shaw a shot in the arm. Essentially, ‘forget the cup final snub, I now believe in you’.
Mourinho said on Friday: “In practical terms we have lots of left-backs. It doesn’t look like it but the reality is that [Daley] Blind, Shaw, [Marcos] Rojo, Darmian are all playing left back and can play there. They are different players.
“I think the one that should be in the couple of years the best of all — because potentially he should have all the conditions to be the best of all — is Luke Shaw.
“By age, by physicality, by intensity, by being aggressive going forward, he should be the best. But to be the best you need to work hard. It’s what he’s trying to do.”
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) March 3, 2017
To date, Mourinho’s psychology has not had the desired effect on Shaw, like Martial the former Saints man has not responded to his mind games.
Shaw was urged on by Gary Neville on Friday to go and be a “United Great” and ahead of the game suggested Shaw was certainly not lacking in ability. And now he has reached a physical level approved of by Mourinho the only doubt is whether Shaw’s mindset is that of Mourinho player.