LONDON: Jose Mourinho has insisted the likes of high-profile Manchester United signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are far from “untouchable” players.
Both midfielder Pogba, a world record £89 million ($115 million, 102 million euros) arrival from Juventus, and striker Ibrahimovic have had their recent performances called into question.
When he was Chelsea manager in 2006, Mourinho suggested several key players were “untouchable”, indicating they had no chance of being dropped regardless of their form.
Asked ahead of United’s Europa League clash at home to Fenerbahce on Thursday if the same situation applied at Old Trafford, Mourinho replied: “No. That was a different Premier League and situation it was the best team by far. It was a different story.
“Not untouchable. Untouchable in our team has to be the spirit, the pride, the commitment to the club, the respect to the fans – that has to be untouchable, not players,” the United manager added.
United captain Wayne Rooney has lost his place in the starting line-up, with the last four games seeing the veteran forward used as a substitute only.
Portuguese boss Mourinho refused to say if Rooney would start against Fenerbahce.
“I don’t want to give you the team, honestly,” he said.
“Wayne is working well — he’s one of the big responsible people for the atmosphere that the players can breathe because he’s positive and a good example.
“We count on him, to start or be on the bench.”
Meanwhile former Liverpool centre back Mark Lawrenson said Rooney was now paying the price for launching his career as a teenager.
Lawrenson cited the example of former Liverpool and England striker Michael Owen who burst on the scene at an early age but had lost a lot of his youthful pace by the time he retired aged 33.
“Basically, when your legs go, your legs go,” Lawrenson told Britain’s Press Association.
“He’ll play lots of games for Manchester United, they’re not suddenly going to go, ‘Your legs have gone, you’re going to sign for someone else’.
“But he’s had an unbelievable career. Michael Owen burst on to the scene when he was really young, as did Wayne Rooney, he was 16 when he scored that wonder goal against Arsenal. Maybe that’s just your career.
“For him, I think the reason why he’s coming to the end early is because he was a beast of a man when he was 16, as he is now. That’s just the way it is. It’s a bit like tennis players, some go from 18 until their 25, some get to their thirties. It’s just your career.”
Lawrenson, a former Republic of Ireland international, himself retired not long after turning 30.
“People say that’s really, really early, but when I was 18 and I made my debut for Preston I was still at school, it was the best moment ever.”
Monday’s goalless draw away to bitter northwest rivals Liverpool extended United’s unbeaten run to five matches. They are third in their Europa League group, with three points from two pool games a point less than leaders Fenerbahce.