Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday night that his English defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones need to be braver, by helping the club through a looming central defensive crisis.
Mourinho, who implied he was deeply pessimistic about the injuries sustained by Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 2-1 Europa League quarter final win over Anderlecht, said that he would be prepared to come back from injury far sooner than Jones and Smalling. "Tomorrow," would be his target, he said. Both players will be bemused by his comments, with Smalling already having been criticised by the Portuguese for pulling out of a game at Swansea City when he had broken a toe, earlier this season.
Mourinho said that Smalling and Jones had to play through the pain. “We have [Eric] Bailly and [Daley] Blind who have experience and it’s time for Jones and Smalling to be brave - to [take a] risk - because for the team you have to do everything. You can’t do miracles but you have to try to do everything to accelerate the process.
Asked when he thinks Smalling, who has a knee injury, and Jones should make themselves available, Mourinho said: “If it was me I think tomorrow.”
Later, he accepted that they had shown bravery before, and said: "They cannot make miracles. They have injuries and even in the crazy mentality they cannot play Sunday. There are no miracles but with special spirit you can sooner than expectable. So instead of come [back] mid-May you can come beginning of May.”
Smalling only came out of protective knee brace this week and Jones is struggling with a bad toe injury suffered when Smalling tackled him during England training last month. Both players may be surprised to find Mourinho questioning their commitment now.
Of Rojo and Ibrahimovic, the manager said: “I want to wait but my feeling is not good for both. I want to try to be optimistic but I’m not.” Ibrahimovic may have played his last game of the season.
United were unconvincing and missed scores of chances against the Belgians, leaving Mourinho looking tired and sounding tetchy during his press conference. He said: “I’m relieved, relived, difficult game. I’m tired. I imagine the players are more tired then me but we are in the draw tomorrow and we still have the dream to win the competition.”