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Luke Shaw’s Manchester United team-mates were left stunned and angry after Jose Mourinho’s latest humiliation of the defender. Shaw was surprisingly hauled off at half-time in the win over Brighton to leave many United players dumbfounded, in the latest setback to the England international’s Old Trafford career.
It is understood that some United stars even believe Shaw is being “bullied” by his manager and the defender is facing an increasingly bleak future while Mourinho remains in charge.
Mourinho was seen shouting at Shaw during the first half before substituting him at the break, later insisting he wanted his team “to defend better”.
His latest public humiliation of Shaw comes just two months after claiming the left-back was one of the best in his position.
Shaw has more than a year remaining on his contract, but could now be facing another extended period out of the United first team.
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The England international was not alone in being criticised by Mourinho, with the Portuguese furious with a number of his players after they struggled against Chris Hughton's side.
Barely 24 hours after launching an impassioned defence of his 20 months in charge at Old Trafford, Mourinho declared that only Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku - the two goalscorers against Brighton - were safe from his wrath.
And with Mourinho having accused his players of “a lack of personality, lack of class and lack of desire,” it was left to Matic, his loyal lieutenant both at Chelsea and now United, to try and explain a second memorable outburst in as many days.
“I didn't have many managers in my life but he is special because he wants to win always,” said Matic. “You can see when we lose a game he cannot accept that. Probably that's why he won more than 20 trophies in his life.
“It is very difficult to work with him because he always wants more and more. Even if you win the league he wants to win again next season.
“He is like this and the players need to be ready for that. Because at this high level, at Manchester United and where I used to play Chelsea, the players need to be ready for that because the pressure is big.
“Everyone expects you to win every game. Obviously it is not possible, but supporters always expect. It doesn't matter if you are tired or not, supporters want high quality football. It is normal.”
“Normal” also describes these latest pronouncements, at least for Mourinho. It is a pattern he has followed before in his managerial career and which helps explain, at least in part, why he has never spent more than three years in any one post.
Having turned from admonishing supporters, to criticising his predecessors, to self-defence, to hitting out at his players, all in the space of one weekend, Mourinho conceded on Saturday evening that a policy of being so public in his pronouncements could backfire.
It is conceivable, he admitted, that he could “lose” the dressing room after his scatter-gun approach towards a group of multi-millionaire footballers not readily known for their acceptance of such public embarrassment.
Not that Matic features in that category, with Mourinho’s admiration for the player long since a matter of record. If the 29-year-old does represent the resident United teacher’s pet, however, it was not a point he wished to analyse.
Has Jose Mourinho changed tactically since his early managerial days?
“I think this is a question for him. I am doing my best and I am happy to work with him, I'm happy to be part of his team, club,” he said.
“I think he respects what I am doing every day, not only in the game, but in the training sessions and I am happy for that and I will continue like this.
“I like when the manager always wants better and better, so you have to improve always. Always do your best. I like this kind of work, this kind of relationship. I'm happy.”
All of which leaves United in a curious state of limbo for now. Should they win the FA Cup and finish second, does that represent an improvement on Mourinho’s debut season, when he won two pieces of silverware in the League Cup and Europa League?
Given that embarrassment against Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek, probably not. And, for Matic, a season in which the FA Cup is the only honour, cannot be considered success.
“I think no,” he said. “Because I always want to win more and more, but in the Premier League you have six or seven teams who want to win the league.
“It is not possible to always win, but if we win the FA Cup it is good, but not perfect. You have four competitions in the season, if you win one for me it is not enough, but you always have to do your best.
“In the Premier League when you are in the first four this is not perfect, but is good to play for the Champions League next season. If you win the FA Cup I cannot say it is a successful season, but it's a good season.”