Jose Mourinho's got an injury crisis on his hands, and Manchester United can barely field a team with all the players they've got in the training room.
On Thursday, ahead of United's crucial Europa league semifinal first round away to Celta Vigo, Stuart Holden and Warren Barton reacted to Mourinho's criticisms of his injured players.
Right now, Jose Mourinho can't call on the services of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Juan Mata, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. He just got a big boost with Paul Pogba returning from injury, but Jones and Smalling have drawn Mourinho's ire in particular, with the Portuguese manager previously suggesting the two should do whatever it takes to ensure they make it on the pitch against Celta.
“If I was Smalling or Jones, I would play Thursday with anything, I would do a last push,” said Mourinho.
“If they have a crazy mentality like I have, they would. If they are a safe thinking and they are surrounded by people with the same mentality as they have, it’s more time. More cautious.”
It's a tough situation for both manager and players. Mourinho faces incredible pressure to get Manchester United into Champions League, and to do that, he needs his best men available and on the pitch. That can't happen when they're injured.
For the players on the other side of the equation, rushing back from injury can be disastrous. There's the possibility of coming back too soon and re-injuring oneself, and it can have serious repercussions for players' careers down the line.
Does Mourinho have the right to criticize his players for not rushing their recovery?
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Stuart Holden: "I’ve never been publicly criticized by a manager for not coming back quickly enough"
“It is incredibly complex, and one that I know all too well unfortunately. But, I’ve been in that same exact position. I’ve never been publicly criticized by a manager for not coming back quickly enough, I’ve actually been on the other side where I’ve listened to the manager, I’ve had a little bit of pressure to come back a little bit sooner than I was, I came back too early from an ACL injury, and re-tore the same knee in the same type of injury, and put myself out for a longer period."
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Holden: "It's a fine line"
"So, I just think it’s such a fine line that Jose Mourinho is treading at the moment, because he’s not feeling what these players are feeling. If they’re not quite mentally ready to say that someone is ready to play, I think that it’s extremely tough for him to say-- to tell players “you need to go out there, you need to put it on the line”, because at the end of the day it’s that player’s career, and not Jose Mourinho’s.”
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Warren Barton: "You can't rule the game with an iron fist anymore"
“It’s very offensive. I think as a player. One, being a called a coward in the game, and then saying you’re fit enough to play when you’re not. Mourinho has to be careful, there’s a fine line. He’s never played the game, so he’s never been injured and then had to play. And I know people will say ‘well, you don’t have to play the game to understand--’ but you do.
"When you’ve been injured, and you’re trying to get back -- I’m concerned with the ones that he’s trying to bully and pick on. He’s not gone after Pogba, he’s not gone after Mata, he’s not gone after Zlatan. He’s gone after maybe the lesser players, the weaker players at the club.
"He hasn’t learned from his time with Hazard. When you deal with younger people -- old school, you can go with John Terry, Lampard, Drogba, and have a go at them, and they can handle it. But in the modern game -- I work with two young fellas, used to -- you have to be nurturing, be polite and help them through this equation, that’s just you Stuart.
"You have to get the best out of players, so you can’t rule the game with an iron fist anymore. Fergie did it but then he adapted and got on well. Mourinho has to be careful because he might lose his players."
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Barton: Mourinho has to be wary of keeping team spirit
“Let’s not get away from it. They’ve got a great mentality now under Mourinho. They don’t lose games, they either tie or win games, 20-plus in the Premier League, so they have that United mentality of sticking together, having team spirit. But I know being in the changing room, when you start picking out players and saying they’re injured and they should be playing, then you might get a little crack into it. Then going forward into finals, and the last couple weeks of games, he has to make sure this team is altogether, they are united, and obviously do well.”
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Holden: "I think is more of an indictment on their mentality"
“I’ve never been around a player that wouldn’t want to play in a Europa League semifinal, or a player that wants to miss a big game. I think this is more of an indictment by Mourinho on perhaps their mentality in general. Not just these injuries, but saying ‘hey Smalling, Jones, if you guys want to be at this club, if you want to be a part of Manchester United going forward, you need to toughen up, you need to have a bit more of a winning mentality. I don’t think it’s specific to their injuries in this moment."