Jose Mourinho has ditched trench warfare and begun turning on his Manchester United troops

Antagonising the opposition is one thing, but alienating your own players is quite another. Steve Luckings looks at how Jose Mourinho is singling out the likes of Luke Shaw for unfair criticism and how it could backfire on the Portuguese.

Jose Mourinho singled out Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw for crticism after the Swansea City game for pulling out of the match claiming to not be '100 per cent'. Michael Steele / Getty Images
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If there was a prize for the best – or perhaps worst – way to lose friends and alienate people, organisers would probably give Jose Mourinho a lifetime achievement award.

In his past two jobs, the script for the Portuguese has been about as gripping as a Where's Wally? book: go to new club, coin pithy sound bite such as "Special One", win trophies, antagonise rival manager, fall out with staff and/or players, leave under a cloud.

At Real Madrid, a club that almost prides itself on cronyism, Mourinho took an emblematic figure in Iker Casillas to task for daring to act as peace maker as tensions between Madrid and Barcelona reached boiling point – a fire fuelled in no small part by Mourinho – by dropping him from the first team, a sharp reminder that Barca and their players, many of whom were international teammates of Casillas's, were the enemy. Fraternising with them was tantamount to treason.

See also:

• Gareth Southgate: 'Great trust in our medical team' on Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw

• Five Premier League thoughts: Mourinho's malaise, midnight for Leicester and more

• Richard Jolly: As football gets faster, Manchester United are losing pace – in the table and on the pitch

Mourinho, like many of the most successful managers, thrives on creating a siege mentality, an us-against-them mindset. But in his final season at Madrid Mourinho abandoned the trench warfare that had served him so well earlier in his career. Instead of standing and fighting alongside his troops, he began to turn on them.

The unsavoury smell of his final season in charge Chelsea still offends the senses too; the appalling treatment of club medical staff for having the temerity to treat an injured player still leaves a bitter taste.

At Manchester United, fans hoped to get Mourinho the winner – the serial collector of silverware who has secured league titles in four countries including three Premier League titles across two spells at Chelsea, as well as a historic treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and European Cup at Inter Milan.

Mourinho made all the right noises when introduced as Louis van Gaal’s successor on May 27 (about a minute after the Dutchman had won the FA Cup), saying how he had always coveted one of the biggest jobs in world football. But the snarl is always just below the surface with Mourinho. For the first few matches, with all four summer transfer target secured and United winning games, all was rosy at Old Trafford. But then United hit a roadblock, punctuated by patchy form and underwhelming displays that made Van Gaal’s teams look as exciting as Brazil in 1970.

Mourinho called out Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and David de Gea for the calamity defending that led to Chelsea taking the lead 30 seconds into their match at Stamford Bridge last month, but the theme of singling players out for individual criticism took on a more sinister tone last week when Mourinho questioned the fortitude of two of his players for pulling out of the match against Swansea City.

"Luke Shaw told me this morning that he was not in the condition to play, so we had to build a defensive line," Mourinho said after Sunday's 3-1 win at Liberty Stadium. "There is a difference between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference."

The left-back complained of pain in his right leg two days after playing the full 90 minutes in the Europa League match against Fenerbahce. This is the same player who is still nursing the physical and psychological effects of one of the most horrific leg breaks in recent memory in a match against PSV Eindhoven 14 months ago.

Mourinho may well be trying to get a reaction out of Shaw, but what good is a £27 million (Dh123m) asset if he gets injured again playing when not fully fit and is forced to miss even more games?

The scars on Shaw’s leg are matched by the mental ones in his head. It is human nature to want to protect a vulnerable part of the body, can Mourinho really blame Shaw, 21, for not wanting to jeopardise his career by playing in pain?

Antagonising opposition managers is one thing, throwing your own players under the bus is quite another.

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