Jose Mourinho insists Wayne Rooney is “going nowhere” despite continuing speculation about the Manchester United captain’s future.
For this first time since bursting onto the scene so remarkably at the age of 16 with Everton, the forward faces a serious fight to get into the starting lineup.
Prior to missing the last two matches with a calf complaint, Rooney had started five of seven games for club and country as a substitute.
The England skipper, who turned 31 on Monday, is in a period of transition and heightened speculation, with it reported this week that Mourinho had told Rooney he needs to move if he wants regular first-team football.
The United boss said that was “not true at all” and underlined his desire to keep him at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t know,” Mourinho said when asked how long Rooney can play on. “With [his age being] 31, I know he can.
“I know he can, I know he’s a top player, I know he can play at the top level.
“I cannot make this kind of mental exercise of what is going to happen at 32, 3, 4, 5. I can’t say that.
“What I can say is that he’s a very good player, he’s a very important player for us, he’s going nowhere. We like him, he likes us.
“He is not happy because in the last matches he was on the bench, but I think he’s even unhappier when he’s not on the bench because he’s been injured and has to stay in the stands. There is no problems at all.”
Mourinho expressed his frustration at recent stories in the media about that matter and others, before growing frustrated as questions continued about Rooney.
“He’s my captain,” the United boss said. “He is the team captain. He behaves like that.
“In all my career I had just a couple of players that didn’t want to play and sometimes they want to hide when things got hotter.
“Apart from that, every player wants to play and I don’t know players that are happy when they don’t play.
“They are always unhappy when they don’t play. Thanks for that because that is exactly the way I want it.”
Rooney is back in contention for Saturday’s match with Burnley after recovering from injury, with the scrutiny sure to continue at time the player himself admits is a “difficult period.”
“I think he is a human being like everybody else,” Mourinho said.
“He has family, like everybody else. He has kids, the oldest one in an age where he can read, he can feel, he can get that, so if he is affected by that it’s just the human nature.
“The human nature that your industry doesn’t think about, but I think he’s a big boy, he’s a big character and he copes with the situation.”