Manchester United ended a four-game winless streak in the Premier League with a 3-1 victory at Swansea on Sunday, with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic back among the goals. Rather than the headlines focus on an embalming afternoon for United, however, they centred around Jose Mourinho's post-match comments surrounding Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling.
Mourinho had a pop at both of his players for their unwillingness to play through the pain barrier against Swansea. Having assembled a back four of Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind, Mourinho had this to say:
In every sport – and I know because I have friends and they play at the highest level in other sports – how many times you play and you are not 100%. I have a friend that is a big tennis player, he tells me he remembers more the times he played with pain than the times he played without any pain. To compete, you have to go to the limits. It’s a cultural thing for some, and that’s not my culture.
There is a difference between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for who a little pain can make a difference. If I were to speak with the many great football people of this team, they will say many times they played without being 100%. For the team you have to do anything, that is my way of seeing [things].
Of course, it is not just the players, it is the players and the people that surround the players. Yes, it takes time [to change], but with the help of people like Phil Jones, who was playing without having even trained, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney, with these people it will not be an impossible mission but a possible mission.
Mourinho demanding his players take to the field while not fully fit is nothing new: Wesley Sneijder played in the 2010 Champions League final with an injury, while it is believed that Mourinho's relationship with Eden Hazard partly broke down through the former's insistence Hazard play while carrying a hip injury.
Today's London Times carries a story by Paul Hirst concerning Smalling and Shaw's reaction to Mourinho's public comments. The article headlines Mourinho's words as a "slur", which may be a tad hyperbolic. Nonetheless, the report claims that both players are "bewildered" by the criticism.
It points out that smalling played the entirety of the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea having taken a painkilling injection his foot, while Shaw is equally perplexed:
Those close to Shaw deny that the left back informed Mourinho of his unavailability on Sunday morning. It is understood that the 21-year-old did not even travel with the rest of his team-mates to south Wales on Saturday afternoon.
The Times understands that Shaw was also struggling last week with pain in the back of his right leg — the one he broke in two places playing against PSV Eindhoven 14 months ago.
It is not the first time the same paper has carried reports from sources close to United players in the last few weeks. The same journalist had a story after the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea claiming that players were "shocked" by Mourinho's distance on the training field, taking a hands-off approach they had not expected.