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Mourinho & Man Utd kids: Why he's right to question Conte's Cheek

COMMENT: Oh those stats. They can be a real inconvenience. Especially when you're slating Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho and kids. The Manchester United manager just doesn't rate 'em. He won't have 'em. Just look at Marcus Rashford. Luke Shaw. C'mon, he's killing their careers...

But hang on. Wearside on Sunday was Rashford's 41st appearance this season. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba has played more for Mourinho this term. And Shaw? After all the fallout from the Everton game last week, the fullback was there. In the starting line-up. And when he was substituted on the hour, he was greeted with a warm arm around the shoulder from the manager.

A bit of kideology? Just playing up for the cameras? Really? When was the last time Mourinho did anything to protect his reputation with the press? If he was worried about such niceties, the manager would never have bothered calling out Shaw - and so inviting such a frenzied backlash - over the past few weeks.

A bully. A coward. The ex-pros have teared into Mourinho for his management of Shaw. But if they bothered to look a little closer - or ask around a bit more - they'd know it wasn't just the manager who's been concerned with the England fullback. Teammates have had their say. Even his family.

And the castigating produced the desired result on Sunday. The England international, albeit against Sunderland, produced his best performance under Mourinho. Now an hour of decent football doesn't rescue a career. But maybe the penny's dropped. The mates need to move out. The training needs to be picked up. United, in the era of Mourinho, is no place for passengers. The club just won't wait. This isn't the United of Louis van Gaal or David Moyes.

"I tell the players that the bus is moving. This club has to progress. And the bus won't wait for them. The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work."

No, that's not a quote from Mourinho, but Sir Alex Ferguson. Being a top six player. Even a top four player. It simply isn't enough under Mourinho. And that's what he's tried to get through to Shaw. Many have tried to make it personal between the two. Even those close to Shaw, with their ridiculous claim about Mourinho holding a grudge because the lad chose United over Chelsea when leaving Southampton. It's difficult to say what's more half-baked, the actual claim, or the hangers-on continuing to trot out the same line.

This is about football. About the manager's team building. He'd rather not have to spend money on a new left-back. He'd prefer Shaw live up to his reputation. But he's not going to wait. He can't. The club. The biggest in the world. Has been doing that for three years.

“On one side we want the young boys to play," Mourinho said last week. "But on the other side we want the young boys to perform.

“You go to other clubs and you say, 'Young players are playing and being developed', but what are the responsibilities playing for those teams? What do these teams demand from the youngsters? What pressure is there?"

Which is the message to Shaw. He can be part of a winning United team. He has the ability. But leaning on his potential. What he could be in time. Just won't cut it any longer at Carrington. If he's unwilling to change, then Mourinho will simply go out and find someone who will work harder. Apply himself more. And do everything he can to make the most of the opportunity God's given him. Shaw need only look across the dressing room to Henrikh Mkhitaryan for inspiration. It isn't Shaw we hear of keeping gym staff out of hours and causing the club to rethink lifeguard policy at their pool.

As for Rashford. 41 appearances? Under a different manager, those riding the sofa would be calling for the teenager to be withdrawn.

Mourinho made a good point when discussing (well, okay, having a right old dig at) Antonio Conte's approach to Chelsea's young players.

“You look, for example, at my last season at Chelsea. Is Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing less than in my last season? Probably less. Is Kurt Zouma playing the same as last season? Definitely less," said the Special One.

And okay, he's stretching things regarding Zouma and his injury problems. But he didn't mention Nathan Ake. Nor the mess around Dominic Solanke. And the question for those riding high on the anti-Jose bandwagon is: Would Rashford have featured 41 times for Chelsea this season?

Or, what about Loftus-Cheek? Would he have played more at United? No? Then how do you explain Jesse Lingard's opportunities this season?

Mourinho's no Mauricio Pochettino. We know that. But the claims that he's simply anti-youth, unwilling to bring through young talent, is getting a bit old.

Maybe those fearing the worst for England's brightest, need to stop taking the easy road with Mourinho and start asking why a lad as talented as Ruben Loftus-Cheek can't get a game under Conte.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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