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Is Manchester United's injury crisis all in the mind?

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We take a look at Jose Mourinho's comments on Manchester United's injured legion, and try to work out what on earth he's talking about.

Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

All football managers are a bit weird in one way or another. It's that kind of job: the pressure and the exposure bring the oddities of one's personality to the fore. Of course, being a bit peculiar seems to be no impediment to success, and at times it might even help. Certainly, you suspect that Alex Ferguson might not have been quite so effective if he hadn't been so relentlessly Alex Ferguson about everything.

That said, sometimes managerial weirdness is less intriguing and more baffling. Maybe even a little repellent. One example is Jose Mourinho's strange obsession with injuries, and what injured players should and should not be doing. We've seen this in recent weeks, as he's suggested that, given Manchester United's defensive injury crisis, it might be a good idea for Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to make early recoveries from their respective injuries. And we saw it at the weekend, as he grumbled that given the earliness of his exit, Luke Shaw's injury had better be serious.

They didn't. It was.

Mourinho is one of a long line of successful managers — Brian Clough and Bill Shankly — whose approach to injured players has been, at times, to treat them as though they basically don't exist. As John Terry recalled from Mourinho's time at Chelsea:

If you picked up a knock and missed a day's training, he'd come in and he wouldn't speak to you. He'd walk straight past you on the treatment table. You're sitting there as captain of the football club, you come in kind of looking for the high five from the gaffer. You don't get it, he blanks you and he says to the physio, while you're there so he knows what he's doing, 'How long?' And the physio would say, 'Couple of days' and he'd just walk out.

Let's just all take a moment to enjoy the image of John Terry lying on a table, hand outstretched, hopeful smile on his face, only to be left hanging by his manager.

Now, that physical wellbeing has a psychological dimension is fairly well-established. There have been plenty of footballers who have had a notably — perhaps even notoriously — low tolerance for the myriad niggles, aches, and pains of the business. And it's fair to consider whether Mourinho is trying to achieve something with his comments, whether he thinks he's diagnosed a certain softness in the United ranks.

Certainly, in the case of Shaw, Mourinho's simply the latest in a long line of managers who have had concerns about his conditioning and fitness. While his method of dealing with it is rather different to Louis van Gaal's, who essentially took a schoolmasterly approach and set Shaw some extra homework, it's not impossible to see that he might be shooting for a similar result. But still, it was strange for Mourinho to be returning to his theme even before Shaw's diagnosis was known. Once it became clear that it was a serious knock, he just looked silly.

Then there's Smalling and Jones, both absent after a mutual mishap on international duty. The former has had a relatively injury-free career, at least by the standards of Manchester United players over the few seasons. And Jones may be inconveniently prone to both accident and injury, but nobody's ever accused him of being a malingerer.

There is much we don't know about what's happening behind the scenes at United. Perhaps the club doctors are insisting that both Jones and Smalling are fit to return, only for the players themselves to report mysterious discomfort and inexplicable twinges. But if not, then we have to assume that Mourinho's calls for Jones and Smalling to rise from the treatment table come in the knowledge that they are still, on some level, a bit crocked.

As such, it seems as though Mourinho views sporting injuries not just as questions of physical readiness but as, in some sense, a moral failing on the part of the injured. That incapacity is, in part, a question of softness; that recovery is in part a matter of desire. That a player's lack of heart, dedication, and focus is betraying both the player's body and, much more importantly, the club. The cause. The mission.

Which feels, to this total non-expert, a bit worrying. From a practical level, players that are rushed back tend to get injured again, sometimes more seriously. And from a psychological perspective, you have to wonder how it lands with the players. Getting well would be useful for your career; oh, what a shame, you didn't. Perhaps Mourinho, master of mind games, will have injected some steel into their spines and their hamstrings. Metaphorically. Perhaps he's just being weird.

Anyway, a happy ending is in sight. Jones and Smalling have both apparently travelled to Vigo with the United squad, which suggests that they have decided to be not-injured. Hopefully this decision to have been not-injured has been taken in consultation with their bodies, otherwise this might be a shortlived comeback. And then, joy of joys, they'll get to be ignored by their manager again, except for when he's informing the nation of their treacherous refusal to be not-injured at a moment's notice. The swines.