So, when Mourinho confirmed both Smalling and Jones had made themselves unavailable for the game with City, my eyebrows were raised. For me, it’s a nail in the coffin of their Man United careers.
Mourinho slammed Smalling previously for not having the right attitude before the away game against Swansea only for stories to then emerge that the English defender had a broken toe. Yet, that wouldn’t have affected Mourinho’s opinion at all – he wants warriors throughout his team who are willing to play through the pain barrier for the team. Whether you agree with that approach is irrelevant to Mourinho, he’ll still adopt it and won’t change his ways.
Unfortunately for Jones and Smalling, a way back into Mourinho’s plans is going to be an uphill struggle from this point and especially for Smalling who has struggled all season long to adapt to life under the Portuguese boss.
Just leaving #MUFC – Pogba out of derby with injury and, to Mourinho's irritation, Smalling and Jones not made themselves available
— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) April 26, 2017
Jones was excellent in defence for a period this year before an injury inevitably curtailed his progress and that repeating cycle has seen the patience of United fans wear down over time, to the point where an exit is considered the right decision.
Mourinho is a cutthroat manager. Luke Shaw, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial have all been on the wrong end of his criticism this season and responded in their own ways but with Jones and Smalling, this direct call for them to be brave was their chance to prove to Mourinho they can be what he wants them to be. Like Shaw playing through cramp against Anderlecht, that was a big tick in the box for Shaw.
I personally don’t think it is right to lambast a player for ruling himself out when he isn’t ready to play. Imagine Smalling or Jones classed themselves fit and an on the pitch injury led to City scoring? Who would be at fault then – the player or Mourinho himself?
Mourinho was always going to make plenty of changes to his squad this summer as he continues to rebuild and reshape his United team to compete on all fronts next year and I can’t help but feel this incident with Jones and Smalling could well carry a bigger meaning than simply missing the City game.