Jose Mourinho has been reluctant to give Memphis Depay the chance to resurrect his Manchester United career because he is expecting him to leave in January.
The 22-year-old midfielder arrived at Old Trafford from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2015 after finishing the previous season as the top scorer in the Eredivisie but, despite a reunion with his former national manager Louis van Gaal, Depay failed to nail down a regular spot and has fallen even further down the pecking order under Mourinho.
All four of his Premier League appearances this season, which amount to a combined 20 minutes, have come in fleeting cameos from the bench and it is over a month since the Dutchman was even included in a match-day squad.
If Depay feels he has not been given a fair crack of the whip in his ambition to prove himself at United, Mourinho stressed it is because he has been under the assumption that his days at the club were numbered anyway.
“I have to say that in the past couple of months my decisions in relation to Memphis were influenced by the feelings and information that he would like to leave in January and that we were going to have a real offer that we would be willing to accept.
“That obviously influences me. If I know, if I have the feeling that a player is leaving — if I have to give chances and develop other players — then I go to (Jesse) Lingard, (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan, (Anthony) Martial, the players I know 100% who are going to stay with us.”
Mourinho is not prepared to let any players bar goalkeeper Sam Johnstone leave on loan when the transfer window reopens so Everton’s Ronald Koeman, who has already registered his interest in his Dutch compatriot Depay, and other admirers will have to stump up the cash.
One player whose importance to United is clear is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The 35-year-old needs a brace against Middlesbrough today to finish the calendar year with more than the 51 Lionel Messi has managed.
Mourinho has indicated United will not try to sign another striker next month to ease the burden on the Swede, even if he concedes it would be “a disaster” were Ibrahimovic to pick up an injury.
Middlesbrough’s visit to Old Trafford today will see Mourinho reunited with his former Real Madrid assistant and coaching pupil Aitor Karanka, whom he mentored before the Spaniard branched off on his own to take charge of Boro.
“He’s my friend, he’s a real friend,” Mourinho said of their relationship. “I always want him to win, he always wants me to win. Tomorrow is the first time where I want to win and he wants to win. That’s football.”
Wayne Rooney will once again be absent due to a thigh strain.
Karanka has warned his players not to be fooled into believing they can succeed at United just by shackling Ibrahimovic. He said: “Behind Ibrahimovic, there is [Paul] Pogba and [Ander] Herrera and [Juan] Mata and a lot of players.”
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