Jose Mourinho's 'tough love' policy at Man United yet to work on Luke Shaw
Jose Mourinho's "tough love" approach is probably becoming a difficult sell to Luke Shaw right now.
There has been plenty of "tough" for the Manchester United left-back but precious little "love" since Mourinho took charge at Old Trafford last summer.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has endured the same treatment from Mourinho this season and come through the other side, while Anthony Martial is also beginning to show signs of making the same positive transition as the Armenia midfielder.
But Shaw seems to be stuck on some kind of misery carousel at United, unable to jump off and take the same strides towards redemption that have seen Mkhitaryan and Martial emerge as key figures in Mourinho's team.
With Shaw sat in the stands once again as United defeated St Etienne in the Europa League on Thursday, Martial produced a dazzling display of pace and penetration down the left flank to help inspire his team to a commanding 3-0 first-leg victory at Old Trafford.
Shaw may well have believed that he should have been playing in tandem with Martial, supporting the Frenchman from full-back, producing those overlapping runs and crosses which prompted United to pay £28 million to sign him from Southampton in the summer of 2014.
But all that Shaw is getting at the moment is weekly frustration as the games pass by without him even being involved.
The 21-year-old has made just one first-team appearance in 10 weeks -- a 90-minute outing against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup fourth round on Jan. 29 -- and has not played in the Premier League since the goalless draw at home against Burnley on Oct. 29.
Shaw has suffered injury problems during that time, the kind of niggles that halt progress and diminish fitness, but he has been fully fit now for over a month and yet he continues to be overlooked by Mourinho, despite being the only player in the first-team squad who would regard himself as a left-back, first and foremost.
Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian have all played there, but none of them would regard the position as their primary role.
So what happens next for Shaw, a player regarded by many during his teenage years as the natural heir to Ashley Cole as England's top left-back?
Those close to Shaw insist there are no issues with Mourinho and that the player is simply working hard for the chance to reclaim his position and impress the manager, but as the weeks and months pass, the question marks grow bigger.
Shaw only needs to look around the United dressing room, at Mkhitaryan, Martial, Bastian Schweinsteiger and even Juan Mata, to discover that there can be a route back with Mourinho and that the "tough love" can ultimately prove to be nothing more than a testing period which must be endured.
Sources at United have told ESPN FC that Mourinho rates Shaw and the manager would have pursued efforts to sign him for Chelsea in 2014, only for United to offer above and beyond, both in transfer fee and wages, what the Portuguese believed was sensible to pay.
Shaw's attacking qualities and ability to cover the full length of the left-flank impress Mourinho, but the manager also has concerns over his defensive discipline and tactical awareness.
When Mkhitaryan was overlooked for almost three months earlier this season following his arrival from Borussia Dortmund, Mourinho insisted that the player needed to work on his physical attributes and tactical strengths before being restored to the first team and the approach has undoubtedly worked.
Martial, who Mourinho said should "listen to me and not his agent," is also now performing more like a Mourinho player than he had done previously.
Shaw's problem is exacerbated by the fact that his development has been stunted at United due to two difficult seasons under Louis van Gaal.
In 2014-15, he made just 20 senior appearances due to injuries and claims by Van Gaal, initially, that he was not fit enough.
Then the following year, a double leg fracture suffered against PSV Eindhoven in September 2015 ended his campaign and kept him sidelined until Mourinho's arrival last summer.
This season has been another frustrating campaign, with Shaw making just 14 appearances. In total, he has racked up just 42 games in two-and-a-half years at United.
Mourinho has told him to "work hard and be patient" and insisted: "Luke is working well, he is fighting hard and I don't have any problem."
At some point, Shaw will be handed the chance to emerge from the shadows and United's next two games, an FA Cup tie against Championship strugglers Blackburn Rovers and the Europa League second-leg in St Etienne next Wednesday, would appear to be perfect opportunities for Mourinho to ease him back in.
But the "tough love" is unlikely to end if or when Shaw gets himself back into the team.
During his first spell in charge at Chelsea, Mourinho gave Joe Cole similarly demanding treatment for the entirety of his three-year reign as manager.
After Cole had scored the only goal in a win against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in October 2004, the midfielder was singled out for heavy criticism by his boss.
"He has a lot to learn," Mourinho said. "I think he has two faces -- one beautiful and one I don't like. He must keep one and change the other one.
"When he scored the goal, the game finished for him. After that I needed 11 players for my defensive organisation and I had just 10."
A year later, after a 2-0 win at home to Birmingham, too many tricks by Cole prompted Mourinho to turn on the England player again.
"I've told him, one more match like that and he's out," Mourinho said. "He has to play for the team and not for the public and himself."
When Mourinho hauled Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips off after just 26 minutes of a league game at Fulham three months later, it was a public humiliation many players would hold against their manager.
Yet Cole repeatedly took his medicine and worked hard to win Mourinho over and ended up with a bagful of winners' medals in return.
The current situation will be difficult for Shaw to stomach right now, especially if he is forced to watch from the Wembley stands when United face former club Southampton in the EFL Cup final next week.
But the pathway back to the team has been laid out by Cole, Mkhitaryan, Martial and many others.
Shaw just needs to find a way off his carousel before getting his career back on track.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_