Wednesday 17 January 2018

Jose Mourinho is oddly curious to see how the media will react should Man United win tonight

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho leaves the pitch after the match at Old Trafford. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho leaves the pitch after the match at Old Trafford. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

Tom Rooney

Some have described it as creating a siege mentality, others a persecution complex, but one thing is certain, Jose Mourinho’s rapport with the media, officials, his employers and fellow managers has rarely been simple.

Some of the Manchester United manager’s comments yesterday were, even by his own standards, bizarre.

Most notably, the ones pertaining to his reticence to start Wayne Rooney in tonight’s Europa League tie against Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford.

Apparently, the media’s scrutiny of the club captain has been so acute, that the Portuguese thought welcoming Rooney back into the side this evening could be detrimental to his already brittle self-esteem, should he fail to perform and those in the fourth estate swarm like vultures.

The former Chelsea boss felt it was incumbent upon him to protect a player who has made 528 appearances for the club, scored 246 goals in the process, and represented his country 116 times and, in turn, become their record goal-scorer.

In light of how markedly improved United were in defeating Leicester City by 4-1 and, consequently, ending a three game losing skid, while Rooney sat on the bench for all but seven minutes, a sceptic would say Mourinho had simply stumbled upon a fitting excuse to justify his intention of keeping the 30-year-old in reserve.

Who knows?

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Indeed, Mourinho’s demeanour quickly soured in the eight-day period that United were beaten by Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford.

He gave the impression of a man slightly overwhelmed by his predicament, and his attitude towards the press and match officials struck a familiar chord.

As such, he informed the attending press corps that he was curious to find out how they would react should United prevail this evening because, if you include the EFL Cup victory over Northampton, his side will have then won three successive games.

"If we manage to win the game, we will win three matches in one week," Mourinho said. "So if we do that, I will wait to see if your reaction is as good as it was with three defeats in a week. But for that, we need to win. "

Of the forthcoming opponents, who he will be facing in a competition clearly not too high on his list of pressing priorities, Mourinho was complimentary, albeit in a slightly patronising manner.

United sent scouts to assess Zorya Luhansk and they illuminated Mourinho with the pertinent data. Incidentally, the Ukraine outfit drew with Fenerbahce in their opening tie.

“The Europa League is a competition Man United isn't normally in, so when these teams have a giant like Man United in front of them, it's a huge moment for them and they come to the game with incredible motivation.

“This team defends well and they have three attacking players that I used to call 'runners' because they run and counter-attack.

"I know (about them) because I watch matches – I watched their match against Fenerbahce, I watched their match against Dynamo Kiev.

"One of my assistants went to watch their game against Fenerbahce live and another one went to the game against Dynamo.

"So we tried to collect the important information to give to our players, so our players know the way they play, their important players, their style, their philosophy, their dynamics and yes, I think we are prepared."

Whether or not Mourinho actually wants his side to progress from the group phase is debatable, but he did concede that if United fail to win, their chances of doing so will greatly diminish.

"If we don’t win, I would say we’d have to win all the last four matches, which is difficult, so I think it is very important that we win this game."

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