No confusion for Mourinho over Wayne Rooney's role at Old Trafford
Liverpool v Man United, Premier League: Anfield, Tonight, 8.00pm
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has said that someone else must have "confused" Wayne Rooney by suggesting he could play as a No.6 and has offered no encouragement to the player that he will heed his desire to operate as a deep-lying midfielder.
Rooney said during the international break that he felt the deep midfield role, not No.10, was right for him now - and having lost his place in the United team "there will come a time when I might have to be a bit more selfish in terms of where I want to play and making that clear".
But when this was put to the Portuguese ahead of tonight's match at Liverpool, he replied: "If somebody confused him, it was not me.
"Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Sam Allardyce have all played Rooney in midfield."
Asked a second time if the player has a future there, Mourinho said: "He can play everywhere. That's no problem."
It was put to the United manager that Rooney flourished in big games, having scored the solitary 78th minute goal at Anfield last season. Asked if that had any bearing on selection, he replied flatly: "No."
He added later: "The records are not important for me. A match is an isolated event. There is no relation to what you did in the past; no relation to what you do in the future. That is why I don't like much the statistics of previous matches and previous results and this kind of thing."
Mourinho, who is unlikely to start with Rooney at Anfield, blamed journalists for damaging his confidence while he was with England.
"I think what you could hurt you did already," he said.
"I don't think you can do more than what you did. So I think in this moment it is time for him to recover from what was done to him and the best place for him to do that is feeling like he feels at home here."
He proceeded to be prickly when asked about the player, contradicting himself and making inaccurate statements.
Asked if losing his United and England position had left Rooney in some turmoil, he replied: "[At] Man United he didn't lose place. Not at all."
It was countered that Rooney had not started the last three games. "That's my job. That's a choice. I have 24 players," he replied. When it was suggested that Rooney was no longer the first name on the team sheet, he replied: "For me, he's first-choice."
The manager was more forthcoming about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he said had turned down the offer of three days off to face Northampton Town in the EFL Cup last month.
"He was supposed not to play against Northampton," Mourinho said.
"And because the match before we lost, he came to me and he told me 'I don't want the three days off that you were supposed to give me. I want to go to that match. Maybe the team needs me, maybe the team needs me.'"
The United boss predicted a warm welcome back to Old Trafford for Rooney after he was booed by a small section of England fans following the 2-0 victory over Malta last weekend.
"He was not booed by Man United fans," Mourinho said.
"To be honest, the last match when he went to the warm-up I was feeling Old Trafford was behind him and immediately supporting him during the warm-up before he came on against Stoke."
Both Mourinho and his counterpart, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, have urged fans not to engage in disrespectful chants towards their rival supporters, but Rooney will certainly face a hostile reception nonetheless.
"I think at Man United he feels at home, at Man United he feels the respect he deserves," Mourinho added. "Not at Anfield, obviously, but he knows that here he is respected.
"For me, to play Liverpool is to play against a big club.
"In Madrid I wanted to play against Barcelona, against Atletico, against Valencia.
"In Inter I wanted to play against Milan, against Juventus, against Roma. In Chelsea I wanted to play against Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal, all the big clubs in the country. Now in Man United it's the same. I love to play against the big opponents and Liverpool is a big opponent."
Mourinho - who wrapped up his press conferences in just 22 minutes, eight short of the allotted half hour - would not be drawn into any discussion of Liverpool manager Klopp or his fourth-placed club, who are three points and three places ahead of United, heading into tonight's game.
It was suggested that Klopp is the more demonstrative of the two.
"I'm on the touchline to try to coach," he said, as he got up to leave his press conference.
"I'm not on the touchline…"
He could not find the word he was looking for, so waved his arms as he left.