Are managers right to criticise their players in public? Or should a dressing down be kept in the dressing room?
This weekend, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho singled out defender Luke Shaw for his poor display in the 3-1 loss at Watford, United’s third defeat in the space of eight days.
The criticism shocked Shaw’s team-mates and was debated by former England defender Danny Mills, ex-Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Townsend, BBC Sport journalist Simon Stone and New York Times football writer Rory Smith on BBC Radio 5 live’s Monday Night Club.
What did Mourinho say?
Mourinho substituted Shaw two minutes after his error led to Watford’s second goal, although it later transpired he was suffering from a recurrence of a long-standing groin injury, for which he will have a scan.
The Portuguese said the Watford goal had similarities with Manchester City’s opener in the derby victory over United on 10 September.
“The first Man City goal and this second goal against Watford – you can find an incredible similarity, which is [Aleksandar] Kolarov has the ball in a difficult situation in the corner and my players, instead of going up to press they decide to give space,” said Mourinho on Sunday.
“And here for the second goal, [Nordin] Amrabat receives the ball and our left-back is 25 metres from him instead of five metres. But even at 25 metres, you have to jump and go and press, but no, we wait.
“This is a tactical but also a mental attitude. It’s something that doesn’t become perfect in a couple of weeks.”
‘Players have become so sensitive’
“Players now are very different. There aren’t as many characters. They can’t deal with it,” Mills said. “Players have become so sensitive, whether it is because of social media, the way they are brought up through the academy system.
“You can’t tell players the truth any more. Sometimes they need that.
“The other problem we have now is that spectators are too intelligent. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes any more. They see too much and listen too much. Sometimes you have to tell the truth.
“It wasn’t vicious or harsh what Mourinho said about Luke Shaw. Mourinho has been there long enough now to know that he may need a kick up the backside. He has been criticised for not being fit before. Maybe he is not putting it in in training.
“I assume that what he said in the changing room will be worse than what he said in the press.
“I went to Charlton on loan and after two or three games [then manager] Alan Pardew ripped me to pieces before one game in front of all the lads. And I thought, ‘hang on, why has he done that?’
“But it was what I needed. I’d done all right but I was better than I’d been playing and I needed to start proving it. He was absolutely right. It might be the same with Luke Shaw.”
‘A timely reminder…’
“I don’t think I’ve ever had my name singled out by a manager for criticism, but I have certainly been criticised by insinuation,” said Townsend.
“I’ve read quotes from a manager and thought ‘yeah, that’s me he’s talking about’. Even that stings.
“I thought Shaw was going to be better than he has been so far. I’ll give him some leeway because he had a horrendous injury and is just coming back from that but he needs to get fitter, and get more energy. He is lacking in certain areas.
“Again, it is early days so he has time to develop. This is just a clip round the ear. A timely reminder that ‘you are playing for Manchester United and playing for me. I am not waiting for anybody’.”
“It [criticism of players in public] didn’t happen very often during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. It was a central part of his managerial philosophy that he didn’t criticise players in public,” said Stone.
“Sir Alex felt it undermined the trust between manager and player. Without that he felt he could not get the most he wanted from the squad.
“I understand the players were shocked [by Mourinho’s criticism of Shaw].
“Mourinho is clearly a fantastic manager. There must be an ulterior motive behind it. Unless he is a player that benefits from a kick up the backside it is difficult to see what benefit you would get from publicly criticising a player when you have only been managing them two or three months.
“I don’t think Manchester United can lose at Watford in the way they did and escape criticism. If United play like that, especially considering who the manager is and how much money they have spent, they would expect to be criticised. It is the individual nature that has surprised people.”
‘Echoes of Chelsea’
“There is a tendency in the media – and probably among fans as well – to read too much into what managers say as though it is a scripted drama and everything they say has been perfectly thought out,” said Smith.
“Mourinho was probably in a bad mood and not thinking. But there are echoes of what happened at Chelsea.
“Alluding to players indirectly, I imagine, is quite an effective way to do it because the player realises the manager has noticed he has done things wrong but has the loyalty not to name me. Once you name a player that trust is broken. Mourinho has gone for naming players really early.”