United welcome fourth-placed Arsenal to Old Trafford on Wednesday night and find themselves eight points behind Unai Emery’s side, with their hopes of clinching a top-four Premier League finish fading.
As revealed on Tuesday by The Independent, Mourinho’s relationship with his dressing room is “hugely difficult” at present and the United manager labelled some players as “spoiled” in a team meeting before the draw at Southampton.
Mourinho himself has questioned the attitude of his squad on several occasions already this season, most recently claiming that “some care more than others” before last week’s Champions League victory over Young Boys.
However, the Portuguese appeared to openly contradict or at least row back on that claim at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, at one point denying that “some players don’t want to give the maximum”. “I don’t share that [view],” he added.
When he was asked whether he believed his players are behind him, he said: “I still don’t understand that story. If you think a player only plays when, in your words, he is behind the manager, what I have to call these players or, in this case, what you are calling them, is dishonest.
“A football player is paid – and very well paid – to be a football professional. What is that?
“It is to train every day to his limits, to play every game to his limits, is to behave socially according to the nature of his job, is to respect the millions of fans around the world and to respect the hierarchies in the club.
“If a player doesn’t do that, one thing is to perform well and not so well, another thing is to be a football professional. If you say that a player plays well or bad because of how good a manager is, you are calling the player dishonest.”
Mourinho claimed he could understand why supporters and journalists with no experience playing football at the highest level would draw such conclusions, though he criticised the ex-professionals working in punditry who say the same.
“Because you are a journalist and not a professional player, I understand your question. But when pundits, who were professional players, say that this player is not playing for the manager, did they do that when they were players?
“Were they dishonest players? If they were they shouldn’t be in front of a camera speaking to millions of people.
“I disagree totally with that question. You have to analyse a player by: ‘Is he performing, yes or no?’ You shouldn’t go in that direction because you are calling the players dishonest.
“You believe a player scores in his own goal and then runs and celebrates? ‘I scored in my own goal because I don’t like the manager’? Do you believe in that? I don’t believe in that.”
When it was put to Mourinho that a difficult relationship between a manager and one of his players could still be a factor in the team or the player’s poor performances, he claimed an ‘honest’ player would try to leave the club.
“You have only one solution,” Mourinho said, likening the situation to one between a journalist and an editor. “If you don’t like your boss in the newspaper, you have to leave the newspaper. It is still a dishonest factor. So, be honest and leave. Go to another paper.”
United could find themselves 10 points away from fourth place at the end of play on Wednesday if Arsenal win at Old Trafford and Chelsea claim victory away at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Mourinho’s side are already 16 points behind pace-setters Manchester City, having finished as runners-up to the defending champions last season.
On Tuesday, Mourinho reiterated his claim that United did not receive the credit they deserved for last season’s performances and that he expected a difficult campaign this time around following a failure to significantly improve his squad during the summer transfer window.
“The distance – the sixteen, the eight, the twelve, the four, the five – is something I couldn’t predict,” he said. “You always think in a positive way, you always think the distance is not going to be so big but I told clearly that last season we did not get the credit we deserve.
“I think last season to finish second and to play the FA Cup final and to qualify in the Champions League group as first, last season we didn’t get the credit we deserve at all.
“All of the teams they got better. Spurs was the team who didn’t make direct investment but the best investment is to keep the top players you have, so every team got better and we didn’t.
“I was expecting difficulties for this season but my target is still the top four and we have to fight until the end to try to finish in the top four.”