Jose Mourinho’s criticism of Luke Shaw was justified but at what expense? | Paul MacInnes

3 months, 22 days ago

In the context of Jos Mourinhos criticism of Luke Shaw managers must accept that modern footballers are delicate as well as valuable and public shames could demonstrate expensive

Were all human resources executives now. Or perhaps its merely felt that way the coming week as the debate over whether Jos Mourinho was right to criticise Luke Shaw in public operated on longer than your median job tribunal.

The young defender was singled out following Manchester Uniteds insipid 3-1 defeat to Watford last weekend. He was not the first individual to be treated in such a way by his manager this season: Eric Bailly, Daley Blind and Jesse Lingard have already felt the edge of Mourinhos tongue. But the Portuguese was surely unsparing. Our left-back is 25 metres away instead of five, he said of Shaws involvement in Watfords crucial second aim. Devote him 25 metres and you have to press. But no, we wait. It is a tactical but also mental attitude.

There have been theories and counter hypothesis as to why Mourinho did what he did. Grumblings from Shaws camp have suggested that the player has been left upset. United themselves have let it be known they watch outspoken statements as not only part of Mourinhos character but in the tradition of Sir Alex Ferguson himself. None of these have resolved the key question though: whether such tactics are ever really effective.

The one big qualifier to this entire debate is that every individual is different and a relationship between a director and federal employees will differ from person to person. Some players might respond to it you never know says David Pleat, the former Tottenham manager and director of football. You dont know what the relationship is between the player and administrator. Neither do you know the motivation behind what was said and what they discussed in private. But to do it in public is commonly a last resort. You cant devote a final warning to a player. You can to a member of staff, but not a player. So some administrators might see this as an equivalent.

Dr Steve Peters has worked as a sports psychiatrist for both Liverpool and Roy Hodgsons England and says that aspects of behaviour will always remain opaque to a degree. You would have to be a mind reader to know why someone would publicly criticise[ an employee ]. You would have to question them immediately to find out their motives, he says, adding but sometimes people just dont know why they have done something.

Caveats to one side, it is clear that the downsides to public criticism are many and sizeable. The notion, for example, that some players will thrive under the pressure is unlikely to be true, says Peters. Clearly very few people would react well to public criticism, he says. We are all unique private individuals and react very differently depending on a number of factors. For instance, we generally dont get affected if “weve been” robust or if what is happening is not of any significance to us. So it may not be about personality but about faiths or abilities to manage feelings. But even if a criticism is justified it is possible that there will be a feeling of shame and a reaction to this to defend[ yourself] or attack specific comments. We are by nature emotional creatures and, for most, compassion is more powerful than a rebuke.

For Pleat, there are scenarios in which public criticism can have a positive effect, though not inevitably on the individual involved. You might criticise your best player to demonstrate the younger members of your squad that youre not afraid to challenge the top human. It can be motivational for them to see that, he says. But what you would never do is criticise a young player in public. Its hard enough for them to break through the tough atmosphere of a dressing room as it is, without you knocking their confidence. Its likely to alienate the rest of the squad who will look at what has happened and see it as unfair.

And therein lies the rub. Because while a director speaking out of turn in your place of work might lead to some awkward meetings, in top-flight football it could entail writing off millions of pounds. Modern players are delicate commodities but theyre also very valuable, says Pleat. Even if theyre on what Id call a minimal Premier League contract of 20,000 a week, thats a million pounds a year that youre putting at risk. A chairwoman might look at[ a player whos been criticised] and say: Ive now got a million pound liability.

In the febrile world of modern football there are few directors who could afford to take on a risk like that( though Mourinho might be an exception ). In fact, much of what has changed in video games over the past two decades has helped swaying the balance of power away from the manager to players and their agents. Players, after all, have social media on which to air their grievances, or the receptive ear of a friendly journalist. I still have the active antenna of the PFA, who could bring their well-resourced heft to bear on international disputes. As brutal as it might be, the public dressing down is one of the few tools that a director has left in their arsenal. So if things stay sticky at Old Trafford, and maybe even if they do not, expect Mourinho to use it again.

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