Jose Mourinho arrived in Rome on Friday to start the latest chapter of his career at the Stadio Olimpico, and he was joined at the ground 24 hours later by the England national team for their Euro 2020 quarter-final against Ukraine.
While Mourinho was adamant he would not be watching the game, there’s no way he will have missed the masterclass put on by old adversary Luke Shaw, who put in a once-in-a-lifetime performance to lead England to a 4-0 win and a spot in the semi-final.
The Manchester United left-back, just as he has been all season, was outstanding for Gareth Southgate’s side. He was composed at the back and otherworldly in attack, grabbing two assists and completely running the show.
For Shaw, however, this performance will have felt somewhat routine. He’s been doing it all season for United, and nobody is surprised when he hits this level anymore.
Well, nobody but Mourinho.
When Mourinho joined United in 2016, he made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t exactly Shaw’s biggest fan. Constant digs at his ability, his fitness and his mentality had Shaw fighting for his future at the top level, and the then-20-year-old clearly struggled with that.
Between 2016 and 2018, it almost felt like Shaw, who lost the best part of a year to injuries, had started to believe Mourinho’s criticism. When on the pitch, he wasn’t particularly impressive, looking exactly like a 20-year-old with significant injury problems who was devastatingly low on confidence – the kind of player who clearly just needed an arm around his shoulder.
That criticism from Mourinho still continues to this day, but now, instead of getting down about it, Shaw is openly laughing it off.
No longer is Shaw a nervous youngster trying to figure out his place under perhaps the biggest spotlight in world football. He is now an established, elite full-back who has proven just how much he belongs at Old Trafford.
He has torn it up at stadiums across Europe for the last 12 months, but there was something poetic about one of his finest showings coming in Mourinho’s new home, to where he has been banished by English football after blowing what could be his final chance with Tottenham.
The script has been reversed. Shaw is now the master of his craft, while Mourinho is the one fighting to prove he still deserves his spot at the highest level of the game.
Figuring out what is behind Shaw’s rebirth is a tricky one. Is his new-found fitness allowing him to live up to his potential? Was the threat of being replaced by Alex Telles at club level enough of a spark? Or has Mourinho’s criticism been ringing in his ears for a year too long?
Whatever it is, it has worked wonders for Shaw. He’s the player we all thought he would become after watching him at Southampton. He’s figured it out.
For Shaw, he will hope that his resurgence is not over just yet. There’s still the semi-final and potentially the final of Euro 2020 to navigate, meaning there’s still time for Shaw to add to his legacy in an England shirt, and all the signs suggest he is capable of doing that.