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Man Utd players 'baffled' by Jose Mourinho questioning their commitment

The Telegraph The Telegraph 8/11/2016

© Press Association Jose Mourinho’s apparent quest­ioning of the fitness and commitment shown by Manchester United defenders Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw has been undermined by the revelation that they have been playing this season with the aid of painkilling injections.

Mourinho made his comments after the 3-1 victory at Swansea City on Sunday but it can be revealed that both players have been making themselves available this season despite battling against injury.

Mourinho claimed that Shaw, who has just returned from a serious double leg break, had pulled out of the Swansea game only on Sunday morning but it is believed the 21-year-old did not even travel to South Wales with the squad and is understood to have told team-mates he is “baffled” by the situation.

And the United manager’s insistence that “for the team, you have to do anything”, appears to contradict his comments on Smalling after the 4-0 defeat by Chelsea last month, when the centre-half played at Stamford Bridge with a foot problem.

Smalling has not played for United since Oct 23 and is understood to have been struggling with the injury for much of this campaign.

But Mourinho’s controversial remarks have only served to highlight his strange relationship with some of his players, following similar episodes involving Shaw, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan this season.

There have been suggestions that players have been left disillusioned by his approach in the dressing room and in training sessions, expecting a more “hands-on” style which has not been forthcoming so far.

However, England caretaker head coach Gareth Southgate has defended the two players, who have not been named in the squad for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland and the friendly against Spain next week.

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When asked if the pair were “a bit flaky”, Southgate replied: “I don’t know Chris well. That wouldn’t be my impression, having worked with him. Luke I know well and Luke’s had a really tough injury. Very often it’s easy to look from the outside or make judgements on people without knowing them really, really well.

“I think players want to play for England. I have not seen any player who didn’t want to play for England. But that does not mean that players who play for England don’t have some anxieties about performance.

“There have been players that haven’t played as much maybe when I was playing, maybe playing for England was a bit too much for them. But Luke’s played with us right through, Chris has had a lot of games for England so I don’t think that is the situation for them.

“I think that they have got a moment with their club where they are not fit, and that’s ruled them out for us this time.”

Mourinho selected a makeshift back four for the victory over struggling Swansea, which included playing Ashley Young at right-back and Matteo Darmian at left-back. Phil Jones, who had not played since January, also featured at the Liberty Stadium.

Though United recorded their first win in five Premier League games, after two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a spectacular strike from world-record signing Paul Pogba, Mourinho still opted to question the willingness of players to put their bodies on the line.

He said: “There is a difference between the brave, who want to play at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference.

“If I were to speak with the many great football people of this team, they will say they played many times without being 100 per cent. We have players on the pitch with problems. In every sport, how many times do you play and you’re not 100 per cent?”

Yet after the defeat at Chelsea in October, with stand-in captain Smalling arguably culpable for all the goals, Mourinho revealed it was remarkable that the 26-year-old even played at all.

He said: “He was phenomenal to play against Chelsea with such a difficult physical situation for him. He couldn’t do it two days later against [Manchester] City. There was no chance.”

Shaw, meanwhile, only returned to first-team duty this season after suffering an horrific injury in a Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven last September. He has only made six league starts this season but was targeted by Mourinho after the defeat at Watford in September, with the Portuguese accusing him of playing out of position.

Southgate added: “If he wasn’t fit to play yesterday – and he was with us in September under Sam [Allardyce] and was feeling problems with the leg – there’s clearly something. After an injury as severe as that, we’ve got to handle that with care as well. It’s a difficult balance to find. But that’s where we have to trust our medical teams.”

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