Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has questioned the “cautious” mentality of modern footballers which he claims has led to defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones failing to play through pain for the club in Thursday night’s Manchester derby.
In his third veiled criticism of the England international pair in a week, Mourinho said that in “professional football at a high level” players were not willing to put their bodies on the line, leaving him to depend on 23-year-old Eric Bailly to play his 10th consecutive match in the injury depleted defence, against Manchester City.
Mourinho, who has publicly questioned his players throughout a season in which his side find themselves a point behind fourth placed City with six to play yet but a far harder run-in, said that the two defenders’ failure to heed his plea to be “brave” did not mean they would be out of the door at the end of the season.
“It’s not just about them,” he said. “It’s about the philosophy and mentality around them. It’s not just about them and you know we go with the players we have.” Asked to define the ‘philosophy’, he replied: “Cautious. Cautious. Cautious. Just a cautious approach. It’s a profile. It’s the philosophy of work. Just that.”
Both England internationals will be sceptical about Mourinho’s repeated criticism of them. Smalling, who has had a knee injury, only came out of protective knee brace last week and Jones is recovering from a broken toe sustained when Smalling tackled him during England training last month. Initially, Mourinho said he wanted them back by next month but on Sunday he said that the derby was the target.
The Portuguese admitted that Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s possible nine-month absence from football after knee ligament surgery will affect how United do business in the summer transfer market. But his more immediate challenge is what could ultimately prove to be a fourth-place knockout game at City’s Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
Mourinho said that finishing above City would mean “nothing” unless it also meant a Champions League place for United. “This is not about Pep, this is not about City, this is about objectives and fighting for objectives. We want to try to play Champions League.” Asked if he thought United would finish above City, he was uncertain. “I don’t know,” he said.
He indicated that he would be without Paul Pogba for the derby but would have Ander Herrera available. Pep Guardiola said that David Silva was a major doubt after the injury sustained in the FA Cup against Arsenal on Sunday and that Gabriel Jesus was not yet ready, though Sergio Aguero might be.
There was uncertainty from Mourinho about whether Ibrahimovic could recover from surgery to have a United future beyond his current 12-month, £250,000-a-week contract. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not interested in it. I don’t care about it. I just want the difficult surgery to go [well].
“I think the next step will always be something he really wants. In a period of doubts about his future, I always said he’s much more important than myself and what I want. It’s what he wants, I always want the players to be happy and choose their future and I think this is what is going to happen. But now, before such an important surgery, I think it’s a waste of time to speak about what next.”