Rooney has been left out of the starting XI in Man United’s last three consecutive games and was also dropped by England for the first time in his career in Gareth Southgate’s second game in charge.
Being dropped by both club and country is indicative of Rooney starting a different phase in his career yet despite leaving him out of his side, Mourinho came to Rooney’s defence but did hint that maybe the best place for him at the moment is at home.
Speaking about Rooney, he said: “I think what you could hurt you did already. I don’t think you can do more than what you did. So I think in this moment it is time for him to recover from what was done to him and the best place for him to do that is feeling like he feels at home here.
“I’m not saying that [he] is low – it’s: ‘OK, you can hurt me but you can’t put me down.’ I think he’s the same.”
Mourinho then went on to discuss Rooney’s position in United’s squad. He added: “At Man United he didn’t lose [his] place. Not at all, for me, he’s first-choice. That’s my job. That’s a choice [dropping Rooney]. I have 24 players.”
United played some superb football in Rooney’s absence but came unstuck against Stoke City when he was still on the bench, so his inclusion in the starting XI is not the sole reason for our current lack of cohesion and consistency but he’s certainly not helping it.
Will Rooney start tonight against Liverpool back in Merseyside where it all began for him at Everton? My head says no but this is the sort of occasion where experience is so crucial and Mourinho may bring him back in for that reason. It’s not what I’d do but I’m not manager of Man United.
Nobody divides opinion more than Rooney and as Mourinho is defending his player, as you’d expect any manager to do, maybe he’ll return to the starting XI at Anfield tonight. That in itself would be a bold move by Mourinho and one, I’d argue, that could be a wrong decision.