Jose Mourinho claimed to be unaware of his agent’s statement about his Manchester United future in a surprise twist to an already peculiar plot.
Pressure and scrutiny on the Portuguese and his ailing team has been intense this season, with talk rife of a change in the dugout sooner or later.
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is said to be top of the Old Trafford hierarchy’s wishlist, with a report to that effect seemingly behind Mourinho’s agent making a rare statement clarifying his client’s status on the eve of Saturday’s Premier League clash with Fulham.
Jorge Mendes claimed rumours of the Portuguese leaving were “totally untrue”, declaring that not only was his client happy at the United, but the club were “very happy with him”.
It was a bolt from the blue on Friday afternoon and Mourinho said that even he did not know it was coming.
Asked about the thought process behind the statement, the United boss responded: “Which statement?
“No, I’ve nothing to do with the statement. It’s Jorge’s statement, not my statement.”
It was a surprising claim by a manager who would declare later in his press conference nominally previewing United’s Champions League trip to Valencia that “nobody in Manchester or connected with Manchester cares more about the club than” him.
Whether that was to underline his passion for the club or suggest others at United lack his hunger, it is hard to tell with Mourinho.
But what has been clearer in recent weeks and months is that his trust in club-record signing Paul Pogba is not where it should be.
Dropped to the bench for the previous two matches, the World Cup-winning midfielder will get the chance to prove his worth from the outset against Valencia, with Champions League progress assured and usurping Juventus at the top of Group H unlikely.
“I’m looking for him to play well and to have a good impact in the game and a good impact in the team – a team with many players that don’t have many miles on their legs,” Mourinho said.
“A team with some players that are not playing a lot, so I hope that people like Paul and a couple of others that are normally in the team and have that number of miles that players need to be at that top level, I hope he can have a good impact on the team.”
Mourinho bristled when then asked why he has not been able to get the best out of Pogba this season.
“I don’t think your question goes in the direction of what I want to answer or listen (to),” Mourinho said. “I don’t like your question.
“You can put the question from another direction, I don’t like the direction.”
Pogba is set to be joined in the starting line-up by the likes of Sergio Romero and former Valencia loanee Andreas Pereira on Wednesday as Mourinho juggles game-time and fitness concerns rather than, he insists, looks to keep players fresh for Sunday’s trip to Liverpool.
David De Gea and Nemanja Matic remained in England, while Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling were also not seen on the flight to Spain.
Alexis Sanchez and Victor Lindelof remain absent through injury, while 17-year-olds Mason Greenwood and James Garner are in the squad in Spain.
“The kids, they don’t start the match,” Mourinho said. “Garner will be on the bench and Mason is the protection player in case we have any injuries.
“We have players that need to play, we have players that deserve to play, so in spite of (the fact) we left a few players in Manchester, we are going to play with a team only with players from the first team.”