José Mourinho has been left disappointed after Chris Smalling and Phil Jones declined to meet his challenge about rushing back from injury for a Manchester derby that will also go ahead without Paul Pogba.
Mourinho’s insistence that Marcos Rojo’s long-term knee injury meant it was time for Smalling and Jones to be braver has failed to coax either player back for the game at Manchester City on Thursday.
Pogba is missing because of a hamstring injury and the news about Smalling and Jones is a clear setback for Mourinho after two public challenges from the Manchester United manager in the last six days.
Smalling came out of a protective knee brace last week while Jones is recovering from a broken toe but an unsympathetic Mourinho had said that, had it been himself injured, he would have declared himself available within 24 hours.
“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,” the United manager said after his team’s Europa League tie against Anderlecht last week. “You can’t do miracles but you have to try to do everything to accelerate the process.”
In better news for United, Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia are both available for the fourth-against-fifth encounter at the Etihad stadium.
Mourinho was also asked on Wednesday about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ruptured knee ligaments and, though he supported his leading scorer, he would not go as far as saying the striker would remain at Old Trafford.
“The future is a big surgery and a long period of recovery but the future is also in the hands of a very strong guy – mentally very, very strong – who wrote immediately on his social media that he will stop when he wants, not when people think, so it looks to me he will not give up and will fight and I’m really pleased with that because that’s the Zlatan I know. He fought all his life, that’s what I told him: ‘You fought all your life since you were born, I don’t see a reason for not fighting [now]’.”
Asked if Ibrahimovic had a future at the club, Mourinho replied: “I don’t know, I’m not interested in it, I don’t care about it, I just want the difficult surgery to go [well]. We think he’s in fabulous hands, then (he has to) recover from the injury, prepare himself for the next step and I think the next step will always be something he wants.
“In a period of doubts about his future, I always said that he is much more important than myself and what I want. It’s what he want. 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 important surgery, I think it’s a waste of time to speak about what next.”